What's underneath Lake Erie in CLEVELAND, OH?
The answer to Great Lakes mariners isn't a complete mystery, but parts of the lakebed off Ohio and Pennsylvania haven't been reviewed since the 1940s, and nautical charts that commercial ships use are long overdue for an update.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has sent one of its four deep-water hydrographic survey ships into the Great Lakes for several months this year to sonar-map the lakebed under heavily trafficked areas.
The Jefferson's first visit to the Great Lakes is marked by a NOAA survey ship since Lake Huron was mapped off Alpena in the early 1990s.
This is part of a re-election effort to map the Great Lakes in recent years, as well as a survey of parts of the Detroit River and Lake Michigan off the coast of Wisconsin.
Following a drydock refit in its homeport of Norfolk and some ocean mapping off Virginia, Matthew Jaskoski, commander of the Thomas Jefferson, which is launching for the St. Lawrence Seaway in April.
Jefferson's crew is very excited for the voyage, according to him.
"The sailboat is one of the most challenging tasks a mariner can do," Jaskoski said. "The crew is incredibly eager to arrive at a new place."
The Jefferson will use a multi-beam sonar to create 3D images of the lakebed once in Lake Erie. As well as on South Bass Island, the area where the Put-In-Bay village is, is a tourist destination that attracts visitors by ferry.
The ship will moor around Presque Isle State Park, a sandy spit peninsula that flows into the lake and creates Presque Isle Bay in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The Jefferson will also transport a pair of smaller boats it carries on board and uses with a winch system to the Detroit River, where they will study around the Ambassador Bridge and the tunnel between the United States and Canada.
When it comes offshore, the Jefferson will be docked in Cleveland, which was launched in 1991 as Littlehales, the US Navy. It has a crew of 35 people, and is capable of being deployed for weeks at a time.
The ship will continue operating on Lake Erie, although some of this year's mission includes tracing Lake Michigan off the coast of, a 962-sqaure mile stretch that was designated as the next National Marine Sanctuary in 2021.
Private contractors will provide that work.
"We're back to our knowledge base of coast surveying up in the Great Lakes," says Thomas Loeper, the NOAA's navigation manager.
The first time the NOAA sent a ship of the Jefferson to the Great Lakes was in the early 1990s, when the NOAAS Whiting, a 1960s era vessel with a storied career,mapped Lake Huron in what has become the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The 2022 mission follows a $17 million contract inspection in the Straits of Mackinac, southern Lake Michigan around Chicago, and the industrialized Indiana shoreline and parts of Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay and Lake Michigan's Green Bay.
NOAA, which is a member of the Department of Commerce, is conducting research in large vessel traffic areas. The primary objective of the program is to modify navigational charts, but the data is eventually being widely used among state and federal scientists and agencies.
It supports fisheries, navigation safety, ice models, hydrodynamic models, and geological work, said Loeper. The whole concept of surveying is to do it once to feed many different goods, not only within the NOAA, but other state and government organizations and tribal groups.
The mapping project involves a performing a scanning technique known as "mowing the lawn," in which large swaths of lakebed are examined in a grid pattern.
Most often, the work ends up locating undiscovered shipwrecks.
Its not uncommon at any time, said Jaskoski. We discover new shipwrecks, new obstructions, things on the bottom, and changes in the nature of the seabed.
"That's the primary reason we're out there: To look for things that aren't listed yet, but should be."