Wreck of the Ironton found using advanced NOAA ocean mapping

The cold, fresh water of the Great Lakes has "magnificently preserved" the 191-foot Ironton for more than a hundred years.
Christopher McFadden
Sonar image of the sunken ship.


Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the state of Michigan, and the Ocean Exploration Trust have discovered an intact shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Huron, resting hundreds of feet below the surface. The sailing ship Ironton ran into another ship and sank in 1894. 

Cutting-edge oceanographic technology was used to find the shipwreck of the Ironton in Lake Huron. The team used NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab's RV Storm, a 50-foot (15-meter) research vessel equipped with multibeam sonar, to map the lakebed.

"The discovery illustrates how we can use the past to create a better future," said Jeff Gray, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary superintendent. "Using this cutting-edge technology, we have not only located a pristine shipwreck lost for over a century, we are also learning more about one of our nation's most important natural resources—the Great Lakes. This research will help protect Lake Huron and its rich history," he added.

The Ironton was found in Lake Huron's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area known for its dangerous waters and run by NOAA. The shipwreck, which is 191 feet (58 meters) long and has three masts, is still standing thanks to the icy freshwater of the Great Lakes, which has kept it in great shape for over a hundred years.

The Ironton gives us information about the history of the Great Lakes and the maritime industry in the area.

The Ironton was a three-masted schooner barge used to transport wheat, coal, corn, lumber, and iron ore across the Great Lakes. The shipwreck was part of an ongoing project to find and record all the shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary plans to make exhibits and multimedia products to help tell the story of the Ironton and other wrecks in the area.

Oceanography technology, like self-driving surface vehicles and robots that work underwater, made it possible to find the Ironton. The research team used these technologies to map the lakebed and search for the shipwreck. The team's hard work paid off when the sonar images of the lakebed clearly showed a wreck.

The discovery of the Ironton illustrates the value of exploring the past to create a better future. The research will help protect Lake Huron and its rich history. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary plans to deploy a deep-water mooring buoy at the site of Ironton to mark the shipwreck's location and help divers visit the wreck site safely.

The sanctuary also plans to continue its research to discover more about the unique collection of shipwrecks that rest on the lakebed of the Great Lakes.

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