Tag Archives: shipwreck

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.

Scientists Re-create 170-year-old Beer

Back in 2010, some archaeologists investigating a 19th century Baltic Sea shipwreck found something more unusual than treasure in the ship’s cargo – four beer bottles fully intact, with the brew still sealed inside. The amber ale was likely brewed in Belgium back in the 1840s, and was on its way to ports in Scandinavia.

You might wonder how well it held up, but surprisingly not too badly for being nearly two centuries old. “These bacteria were still alive,” said Brian Gibson, a senior scientist from the VTT Technical Research Centre in Espoo, Finland, not far from where the bottles were discovered. While beer has been around for at least 7,000 years, being brewed by the ancient Mesopotamians in Iraq, and many breweries have worked to recreate beers from the Middle Ages and American colonial era, Gibson believes this batch is likely the oldest bottle of beer in the world that’s still intact.

Gibson and his colleagues from the University of Munich did an in-depth chemical and microbiological analysis of the beer recently, publishing their work this week in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Despite the inevitable contamination from salt water, they were able to learn quite a bit about the processes of mid-19th century brewing.

“We have a reasonably good idea about what kind of hops were used, different ones than today,” said Gibson. “These hops would have been harsher, these days they are quite mild. The one surprising thing is the beers were quite mild. The original alcohol level was 4.5 percent, nothing extreme.”

Shortly after their retrieval from under the sea, the discovery was celebrated with a monumental beer tasting, consisting of beer experts throughout Finland who came to sample the 170-year-old brew. Rather than using a novelty talking bottle opener, they inserted a thin needle through the cork, taking their samples from two different bottles, in order to avoid exposing the contents to open air. However, the taste testing ended up being something of a disappointment in the end. The researchers described the ancient beer’s scent fairly vividly in their paper, as a cross between “autolyzed yeast, dimethyl sulfide, Bakelite, burnt rubber, over-ripe cheese, and goat with phenolic and sulfery notes.” During its time under the sea, water leaked through the cork of the bottle, rendering the contents about 30 percent salt water.

Despite how good it looked, the beer was considerably degraded. Like modern beers, this beer had a shelf life – a sell by date that had long since come and gone. Aside from the taste of sea water, the tasters had another issue. According to Gibson: “For the analysis, it was difficult to pick out the original flavors. We invited some of the most experienced beer tasters in Finland. The flavors were from bacterial contamination and not the original flavors of the beer.”

Therefore, Gibson and his team had to rely on a further chemical analysis to be taken on the sugars that remained, as well as the alcoholic compounds in order to get a better idea of how the beer was made – their primary interest being the practice of pre-Industrial distilleries.

“We looked at esters, which give beer a fruity or flowery taste. Most of the compounds that we would expect were there. In terms of the fruitiness, probably similar to modern beers. High level of 2-phenyl ethanol which gives a rose or floral aroma.”

In comparison to modern day craft brews, Gibson said their batch was similar to an amber or lambic style ale, which are normally brewed with wild hops. One of the beers had a fairly pronounced hops flavor, while the other likely had more of a fruit flavor, similar to modern summer beers. In many ways, the ingredients in the beers were fairly similar to modern ones, although it was likely that 19th century beer was much more sour, as they did not have a way of keeping acid-producing bacteria from the brew during fermentation.

Sam Calagione, who is the founder and president of Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, Del., has already shown great intrigue in their finds, as his company has worked to recreate historic beers since 1998 with recipes obtained from archaeological digs.

Dogfish’s “Midas Touch,” named for the fabled Greek king, was based on a jar found in a 2,700-year-old tomb uncovered in Turkey, a Bronze Age drink made from barley, saffron and white muscat grapes.

“The whole idea of looking backward for creative inspiration and culinary adventure is really catching on,” Calagione said. “All (the scientists) can give us is a laundry list of ingredients. It is up to us to come up with a creative recipe. What the alcohol content is, whether it’s filtered or carbonated. We have a lot of creative input in bringing these creative beers back to life.”

Stallhagen Brewery of the Aaland Islands in Finland has recently imitated the Baltic Sea beer, under the label “1843.” In addition to the beer bottles, the divers also found 150 bottles of champagne in the wreckage.

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.