SACKETS HARBOR — An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will conduct a multi-day autonomous survey and exploration offshore the Sackets Harbor Battlefield beginning Thursday.
Researchers are scheduled to survey and explore the area through Friday, Aug. 20.
Also, the project team will be at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday conducting technology demonstrations, answering questions and discussing the survey.
The aim of the project is to characterize the lakebed in hopes of identifying submerged remains of the Second Battle of Sackets Harbor. It occurred on May 29, 1813 when British forces tried and failed to capture the town, which was the principal dockyard and base for the American naval squadron on Lake Ontario. The National Park Service has listed the battle as one of the 20 most significant of the War of 1812.
The survey is being conducted using autonomous aerial, surface and submerged vehicles outfitted with remote sensing instruments.
“We have a suite of different survey vehicles,” NOAA maritime archaeologist Madeline J. Roth said Tuesday morning from her cell phone as the team was on its way to Sackets Harbor from another offshore project in Wisconsin.
The team of interdisciplinary researchers, Ms. Roth said, are from NOAA and four other institutions. Two researchers are from the University of Miami; four from the University of Delaware; two from Ocean Infinity, a marine robotics company and one team member represents Marine Magnetics, which designs and builds highly accurate and sensitive magnetic sensors.
The survey vehicles the team is bringing are a drone, an underwater vehicle and three autonomous surface vehicles of different sizes, including the largest vessel, owned by Ocean Infinity, the C-Worker-8.
“Each of our vehicles is outfitted with remote sensing technologies,” Ms. Roth said.
That technology includes side scan sonar, multi-beam sonar and magnetometers used to detect ferrous, or iron-related items.
Ms. Roth said that to her knowledge, there hasn’t been a lot of underwater research done related to the battle site. She said some sport divers did do some metal-detecting work in the 1970s.
“But apart from that work, I don’t think anyone has taken any of these instruments and surveyed that offshore battlefield area,” she said.
Constance B. Barone, manager of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, said there was an underwater team on site for a handful of summers in the 1980s that researched inside the harbor. In the summer of 2011, research was done by a team from Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Black River Bay.
“It’s a new era for underwater archaeology,” Ms. Roth said. “To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a lot of work done.”
The NOAA-backed team will also explore an area away from the battlefield’s underwater survey area.
“We’re taking our largest, the C-Worker-8, to an offshore area that sort of runs along Galloo Island,” Ms. Roth said. “It’s related in that both of our survey areas are within the proposed Lake Ontario Marine Sanctuary.”
The offshore areas adjacent to Sackets Harbor are under consideration as part of the National Marine Sanctuary. If designated, the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary would protect a nationally significant collection of underwater cultural heritage resources including shipwrecks, archaeological sites, and artifacts.
The sanctuaries protect and celebrate the nation’s maritime cultural heritage while creating new research, educational, recreational, and tourism opportunities.
“Part of this survey work was drawn up to support that sanctuary effort,” Ms. Roth said. “We chose some of these areas because there’s a lot of historical wrecking events.”
The team’s visit, Ms. Roth said, will have another benefit in that it gives its members a chance to interact with the community.
“Of course, during the pandemic, a lot of our interactions were online,” she said. “This is one of our first big efforts to get out and start working with the community and to meet people.”
In addition to Saturday’s event, Ms. Roth said that if the team is around the harbor, they will be available for questions from the public.
The first operational day for the team will be Thursday.
“The vessels are pretty incredible to see in action,” Ms. Roth said. “They look like they’re driving themselves. Someone else is in a chase boat nearby. We get a lot of questions and we’re always happy to talk about the vehicles, the research and the sanctuary designation.”