19th Century Shipwreck Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

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19th Century Shipwreck Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

May 18, 2012 - 19:00

Believed to have sunk around 200 years ago, an historic wooden-hulled vessel was discovered by scientists of NOAA, BOEM and partners during a recent expedition in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Underwater robots with torches and high definition cameras were employed by scientists on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to view the remains of the ship during an NOAA-funded expedition exploring lesser known areas of the Gulf. The shipwreck revealed anchors, cannons, muskets, navigational instruments, glass bottles and ceramic plates.

Remains of 19th century vessel: copper shell retains the ship's former shape

Originally noted as an unidentified sonar contact in 2011, the shipwreck site was stumbled upon during a Shell Oil Company oil and gas survey. As part of the decision-making process for issuing bottom-disturbing activity permits in regards to oil and gas exploration, it was requested by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of the Department of Interior that this and other shipwreck sites be investigated during the expedition.

Marine-boring organisms have long disintegrated most of wood of the ship, however, copper sheathing still remains, which shows the shape of the vessel. After more than a hundred years on the ocean floor, the oxidized copper shows possible draft marks on the bow.

The vessel may date back to a time when historical events occurred in the Gulf of Mexico region, such as the War of 1812, the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War.

So-called 'citizen explorers' from around the world were able to participate in live streaming internet video of the expedition and the discovery of the wreck via telepresence technology aboard the Okeanos Explorer.

Additional discoveries of the expedition included a "forest" of deep corals new to science at the base of the West Florida Escarpment and areas of rich biodiversity. Measurements can now be taken of the rate that gas rises in the water column with a new device designed and installed by team members on this expedition. The device is now attached to the ship's undersea robot system, or ROV.

The expedition to the Gulf of Mexico in 2012 was comprised of many partners including several NOAA offices, BOEM, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, C&C Technologies, Florida Atlantic University, Geoscience Earth & Marine Services, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University’s Science and Technology Center at Stennis, Naval History and Heritage Command, NOAA Northern Gulf Institute, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, Tesla Offshore LLC, Institute for Exploration, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Joint Office for Science Support, University of New Hampshire, University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of Rhode Island, University of Texas at Austin, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Artifacts in and around the wreck and the hull’s copper sheathing may date the vessel to the early to mid-19th century.

—Jack Irion, Ph.D., maritime archaeologist, BOEM

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