Shipwreck accidentally discovered off coast of Santa Cruz


The Umpqua II was found lying nearly 5,600 feet beneath the surface of the Monterey Bay, off the coast of Santa Cruz, California delighting scientists who found the sunken artifact.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) investigators were carrying out a study of earthquake faults in Monterey Bay, when their sonar equipment detected the outline of a ship on the marine floor.

"Researchers first spotted the barge in sonar data from MBARI's autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) D. Allen B., which is specially designed to map the seafloor. Cruising as low as [160 feet] above the seafloor, the AUV can detect objects just a few centimeters across. This has allowed MBARI geologists to discover many new geological features, including two hydrothermal vent areas in the Gulf of California," MBARI officials reported in a press release about the unexpected finding.

The AUV has also been utilized to map shipwrecks including the Montebello, an oil tanker that sank in the bay during the Second World War. Katie Maier from the U.S. Geological Survey was using the vehicle to study the San Gregorio Fault, which cuts across the bay, when she found the unusual rectangular feature.

Doc Ricketts, an underwater remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), was later used to examine the fault in greater detail than what was available through sonar images. On one dive, researchers sent the ROV to take a closer look at the shipwreck. One of the first images shown through the underwater camera was the name of the ship, still visible in lettering across the stern of the barge. The ROV was circled around the remains of the ship several times, in order to fully document the condition of the artifact.

The sunken barge was constructed in 1960, originally hailing from Reedsport, Oregon. The marine vessel was used to haul material left over from dredging, and it stayed in service for 22 years. In 1982, the vessel ran aground near Moss Landing, and was towed offshore, before being scuttled. Today, those waters make up part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, protected from future intentional shipwrecks.

Low oxygen levels have prevented the formation of rust on the sunken vessel, and kept marine life on the ship to a minimum. The wreck of the Umpqua II is in excellent condition, considering the accident and scuttling of the vessel.

There are no immediate plans to return to the vessel for further study. However, condition of the vessel may be compared to an unrelated shipping container discovered in much shallower water, to study how such artifacts affect the environment.

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