In 2008, field operations began for a four-year BOEMRE/NOAA/NOPP contract for a multidisciplinary deepwater study examining hard bottom coral habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. The project, officially designated as the Deepwater Program: Natural and Artificial Hard Bottom Habitats with Emphasis on Coral Communities: Reefs, Rigs and Wrecks " Lophelia II??, is typically referred to as " Lophelia II??. A substantial component of this contract is the examination of several deepwater shipwrecks. These wrecks represent the remains of four wooden sailing vessels and three steel hull vessels ranging in depth from approximately 612 meters to 2,271 meters. Field investigations utilizing AUV and ROV systems were carried out on these wreck sites during 2008, 2009, and 2010. This paper will discuss each of the Lophelia II shipwreck investigations, detailing the methodologies used and findings to date at each site.
In the summer of 2008, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration (NOAA OER) and the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) let a contract for a four-year multi-disciplinary study of coral communities on natural and artificial hard bottom areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The study has a substantial historic shipwreck component (historic being defined as a vessel being 50 years of age or older) despite its emphasis on deepwater corals, particularly Lophelis pertusa. These historic shipwrecks represent not only unique underwater ecosystems in the largely featureless continental slope area of the Gulf of Mexico, but also unparalleled information sources about our maritime heritage.
A multidisciplinary scientific team of marine archaeologists, biologist, geologists, oceanographers and others have logged five cruises over three field seasons between 2008 and 2010. Undertaken from the NOAA research vessels Nancy Foster and Ronald H. Brown and privately contracted ships, these investigations employed Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to document seven historic shipwreck sites in water depths from 612 to 2,270 meters. This paper reviews operations over the three field seasons, including objectives, technologies, and methods, discusses preliminary findings, and outlines areas of continuing research.
Research and investigation plans for the shipwreck component were designed to meet the project's archaeological objectives of establishing vessel type, construction date, use, and positive identification. Select diagnostic artifacts (e.g. ceramics, construction materials, equipment, or cargo) were collected as necessary to aid in these determinations. Shipwreck features and artifact assemblages were recorded to assist in defining site boundaries, understanding site formation processes, and vessel layout. Anthropogenic and biofouling community impacts were assessed to determine wreck preservation and measure deterioration rates. All of the collected information will be used in conjunction with archival research data to develop an historic context for each wreck and to determine its potential eligibility for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.