Tag Archives: Michigan

Lake Michigan’s ‘ghost ship’ is now visible from the sky

It may have been the hottest recorded winter in 134 years, but much of the American Northeast endured freezing temperatures early this year, largely owing to a Polar Vortex that pushed seasonal sheets of ice across the Great Lakes in the Midwest. After an early spring, the ice has begun to clear away, and for a brief period, the waters of Lake Michigan are clear enough to see the shipwrecks lying beneath its surface – so large that they are visible from the air.

The U.S. Coast Guard Air Station of Traverse City, Michigan, reported crystal clear water conditions and the sighting of these lost ships while conducting a routine patrol of the area. Last week, a handful of aerial photos were uploaded on their Facebook page. These images were taken of an area near Sleeping Bear Point which is known as the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve. According to the preserve’s website, this are is “one of the richest areas in Michigan for shipwreck diving.”

The idea of diving for shipwrecks in a lake might seem unusual, but in fact there’s quite a few lost ships buried beneath the lake, some of which date back a few centuries. Local treasure hunters claim to have found a lost ship belonging to 17th century French explorer Robert LaSalle, but have yet to verify if the ship they videotaped is in fact four centuries old. The season is somewhat short lived, as warmer weather leads to algal blooms, which will again make the water difficult to see through.

So why do so many appear around the Manitou Passage – an area lying just north of the North and South Manitou Islands, both of which act as a type of barrier that protect ships in the area from potential storms. The growing lumber trade in the Great Lakes region by the mid-19th century turned the Manitou Passage into an important waterway, and that’s about the time that one of the newly sighted ships dates back to.

Susan Cosier, who writes for the journal On Earth, has reported on the latest finds:

“Not much is known about most of the wrecks, but they do include one doomed vessel, the James McBride, which was thought to be the first to carry cargo from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Michigan in 1848. Facebook commenters helped fill in some of the blanks, but most the historic details are still, well, watery.”

The Coast Guard Air Station has tacked on any information people were able to accumulate either from common knowledge or off of the Internet in the captions for each of the images. Out of the five sighted ships that they posted pictures of, there are still three that remain unidentified.

Bill Chappell, a reporter from NPR.Org has noted that sighting these wrecks from in the air is a “fairly common” occurrence, as he was told by one of the patrolling pilots, Lieutenant Commander Charlie Wilson, but this is an unusual case, because typically the number of wrecks is generally “not in the numbers we saw on that flight.” Chappell also interviewed workers at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who noted: “An estimated 6,000 vessels were lost on the Great Lakes with approximately 1,500 of these ships located in Michigan waters.”

Other wrecks so far investigated within the Manitou Passage include the more modern vessel The Francisco Morazan, which was an ocean-going freighter hurtled aground during one particularly rough snowstorm on November 29, 1960. The Morazan actually shipwrecked directly on top of another ship over half a century older: a wooden steamer called the Walter L. Frost, which disappeared on November 4, 1903. Both of these wrecks took place in shallow water, only a few hundred yards away from the shore, according to the preserve’s website.

Agricultural runoff near the area causes algal blooms that become more prevalent with warmer temperatures. Therefore, these particularly views are rare, as the lake will soon be covered over. The vessel pictured is the Rising Sun, which sank on October 29, 1917, after all 32 passengers on board were successfully rescued.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

Lake Michigan Wind Makes Sand Sculptures

Joshua Nowicki, a Michigan photographer, and his wife had a rather unexpected surprise this Valentine’s Day weekend when they planned a stroll along the shores of Lake Michigan. Blasts of arctic wind and snow forced them to postpone their walk until the next day, but in the end, the conditions actually proved somewhat favorable – for reasons he captured pretty well with his camera.

“On Valentines Day my wife and I had been intending to go out dinner but due to the blizzard condition that day, we decided to post-pone our evening out until Sunday,” he said to News 10 of Detroit.

“My wife is extremely supportive of my photography career and encourage me to go out and take some photos of the lake and lighthouse.”

When they finally did go for their walk along the frozen sand, the landscape was rather different than he had anticipated.

“I was expecting that with the high winds there might be some wave crashing over the pier giving the lighthouses a new coating of ice. However, the lake ice had extended past the lighthouses (therefore no crashing waves on the pier) so I was unable to take the photos I was hoping to take.”

Instead of the traditional shots of a beach and lighthouse landscape at dusk that Nowicki had originally hoped for, he saw something else – what appeared to be intricately constructed mounds jutting out of the frozen sand all along the beach – what appeared to be the lost remains of a forgotten civilization. Nowicki momentarily felt like the farmers who first discovered the hidden remains of Pompeii centuries after it was covered by ash. Overnight, carefully constructed monuments appeared to be rising out of the sand.

“As I walked home along the beach I saw some of the small sand structures. The first ones I saw were very small however a little farther along the beach I saw more and larger ones. The largest were about 12 inches tall. At Silver Beach County Park in St. Joseph, Michigan I saw five areas with the sand structures. The largest area that one patch covered was about 3 feet by 10 feet.”

The extreme temperatures – which are also responsible for covering 94 percent of Lake Michigan with ice – something that made for some stunning pictures last year in the wake of the Polar Vortex – had caused the sand to freeze. Extreme winds coming off the lake during the blizzard pushed water ashore, and the frozen sand began to erode much like rocks, only slower, and leaving a smoother shape when it took chunks of sand back into the water. You might think of the process as similar to how vast prehistoric rivers gradually gave way to forming canyons, only the erosion process takes a few hours rather than the work of centuries. The phenomenon is hardly unknown, and not even one that was unfamiliar to Nowicki:

“I had seen some similar but smaller ones at the beach a couple of years ago. At that time I had just taken up photography and was not able to take decent photos of them. It was about 6:30pm on the 14th when I took some of the photos. As it was getting dark, I decided to come back at sunrise on the 15th to take more photos. By the 15th they had further eroded but some were still there. By the 16th the sun (even though it was still cold) had mostly dried them out and they had fallen down into little piles of sand.”

This time he came prepared, however, careful to add a little perspective to each. Although many of the wind sculptures were relatively small, some of the pictures appear to be from the surface of an alien world, where Nowicki has managed to crawl into one of their strange dwellings:

“Being that they were relatively small (12 inches or less) I decided to lay down on the sand to take the photos. I really wanted to show the detail of the formations.”

The tower formations are similar to the Hoodoo columns found along the Colorado Plateau in Utah, which formed due to erosion from the glaciers melting after the last Ice Age.

Josh’s beach photos have become not only an internet sensation, but were even featured on Good Morning America as well as The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, Colossal, the Detroit Free Press and the Huffington Post. They can be viewed here at his blog: http://joshuanowicki.smugmug.com/New-Photos/

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.