NMC students discover shipwreck in GT Bay

TRAVERSE CITY – Northwestern Michigan College students have discovered what is believed to be an unidentified shipwreck in Grand Traverse Bay.

In late July the students, enrolled in Freshwater Studies and NMC's Great Lakes Maritime Academy, were aboard the research vessel Northwestern performing hydrographic surveys of the lake bottom when an image of what appeared to be a shipwreck came across their screens.

A remotely operated submarine confirmed that the shipwreck was a 105-foot barge. It is 27 feet wide and has no observable damage to its hull. The barge has two outboard-type motors that it used for propulsion. Currently covered in quagga mussels, the barge is located where Grand Traverse Bay meets Lake Michigan, near the tip of the Leelanau peninsula.

The four students were David Bearss, Alicia Higham, Ryan Deering and Tom LeBlanc. Bearss is a recent graduate of the Freshwater Studies Program and was hired by the college to supervise Higham and Deering, who are completing their Freshwater Studies science technology internships this summer. LeBlanc is currently enrolled in the Great Lakes Maritime Academy’s deck officer training program and serves as the mate of the Northwestern.  

The students will now work with Mark Holley from NMC's Underwater Archaeology program to identify the ship. They will review maritime archives listing missing ships in the Great Lakes.

The surveying work has been commissioned by the Michigan Coastal Management Program, Office of the Great Lakes, and the Department of Environmental Quality. In the process, the students have discovered what they believe to be the ancient shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay.

This is the third year the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute has partnered with Kongsberg Underwater Technology Incorporated (KUTI) for mapping of Grand Traverse Bay. KUTI, based in Norway, donates technician time and equipment to outfit the Northwestern and to train NMC staff, faculty and students to use their equipment in Grand Traverse Bay. A strong advocate for underwater exploration and education mission, KUTI covers all costs of their support to the project. 

Additional partners include HYPACK Inc., which provides advanced data collection and processing software, Michigan Sea Grant, C & C Technologies Inc and The Hydrographic Society of America.

The students’ work is ground-breaking insofar as they are able to accurately map the shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay from 10,000 years ago. They have identified the original river system that connected Grand Traverse Bay to Lake Michigan. The last known research in this area was done in the 1980s, and researchers could only speculate on the whereabouts of the shoreline and what it looked like.