Northern Michigan in Focus: B.E.N.

The bottom of Lake Huron is massive and a lot of it still holds many secrets.  Over the last two weeks the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has teamed up with Dr. Bob Ballard’s team to help unlock some of those mysteries. Corey Adkins explains in this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.

Over the last 2 weeks if you were in the Rogers City area, or for that matter off the coast of Rogers City in a boat, you may have seen an odd looking vessel.   

Meet B.E.N. or Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator.  It’s an ASV or Autonomous Surface Vehicle.

“Autonomous technology is being seen as part of the future whether it’s cars or boats and other things.  This is an autonomous mapping system and the goal is to take the people out of the loop a little bit and make things more autonomous and hopefully better,” said Ocean Exploration Trust employee Lindsay Gee.

These folks from the Ocean Exploration Trust and the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal Ocean Mapping have teamed up with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to help map parts of the bottom of Lake Huron that have never been scanned. B.E.N. can do that while this team watches from ashore.

“We can design out a survey like this kind of lawn mower lines to specify the distance in the direction that we want to go and then we can send that to B.E.N.  Then we’ll go and sort of happily mow the lawn a map the sea floor and we can sit back and drink tea and watch and make sure everything goes fine,” said Val Schmidt of The University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.

One of the goals was to find new shipwrecks. Unfortunately, they didn’t but the bottom of the lake is almost like looking at the moon.

“They’re finding these really interesting pot marks everywhere we also think those are related to glaciers. We’re not sure but they’re really interesting to look at,” said Erin Heffron with Ocean Exploration Trust.

B.E.N. works kind of like a fish finder but 400 times stronger.

“It’s called a multi-beam echo sounder, so instead of a fish finder that sends one pulse to the floor in one confined way you only get one measurement of depth.  Ours can measure 400 different places across the sea floor in one ping,” explained Schmidt.

The group left on Saturday. They’re headed to Samoa for their next search but will be back next year at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to explore and discover the mystery’s on the bottom of Lake Huron.

“It’s kind of good seeing something that nobody has seen. Exploration is fun. It gets in your blood and once you do it you want to know what’s under that water.  It’s fun to kind of be able to drain the lake in a way by the way we do the mapping,” said Gee.

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus