An autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) from the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping is being used to map unexplored areas of northern Lake Huron.

ALPENA – Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is collaborating with Dr. Bob Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust to map unexplored areas of northern Lake Huron with multi-beam sonar. 

Deploying an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) from the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, this mission is focused on mapping unexplored, expanded sanctuary areas, with a goal of discovering new shipwrecks and identifying shipwreck locations to support ongoing exploration and management. The project began May 6 and ends Friday.

According to officials at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, three targeted survey areas in northern Lake Huron exemplify the diverse maritime landscape of the Great Lakes, including a lighthouse on a treacherous reef; dangerous, near-shore shallow waters; and the deep, mid-lake waters of busy shipping lanes known as “Shipwreck Alley.” 

In addition to potentially locating historic shipwrecks, the multi-beam data collected can help identify fish habitats and update navigational charts, officials said.

Much of the mapping will occur off the shores of Presque Isle County, but on Saturday, May 11, the ASV, also known as BEN (Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator), travelled south to Alpena to survey in the Thunder Bay River during the sanctuary’s annual ROV (remotely operated vehicle) competition. 

Students from across Michigan undertook their own underwater exploration missions in the Marine Technology Testing Tank. ASV BEN is operated from a mobile lab on shore, and provided an opportunity for students and the public to see cutting edge technology in action, and also interact with visiting hydrographers, surveyors, and other marine scientists.

According to officials, the 4,300 square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary works to protect the Great Lakes and their rich history. Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water preserves nearly 200 historic shipwrecks and through research, education, and community involvement, the sanctuary and its partners ensure that future generations can enjoy Thunder Bay’s irreplaceable underwater treasures.

The sanctuary’s visitor center, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, is free and open year round. A popular destination for residents and visitors of all ages, the Center allows the public to experience and appreciate the shipwrecks in and around Thunder Bay. Visitors can also see shipwrecks from a glass bottom boat, or paddle, snorkel, and dive the wrecks in the sanctuary. Visit the sanctuary at and at

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