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‘Amazing’ detail revealed in mapping of mystery shipwreck off Virginia-NC coast

Synthetic Aperture Sonar Data collected over a wreck site off shore of Virginia/North Carolina. The data was collected using a towed KATFISH equipped with a 180 cm AquaPix MINSAS during overnight on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. System operated by ThayerMahan, Inc. and Kraken Robotics.
Synthetic Aperture Sonar Data collected over a wreck site off shore of Virginia/North Carolina. The data was collected using a towed KATFISH equipped with a 180 cm AquaPix MINSAS during overnight on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. System operated by ThayerMahan, Inc. and Kraken Robotics. Kraken Robotics and ThayerMahan, Inc. image

New sonar technology has given ocean explorers incredible new details to help identity a shipwreck found off the North Carolina-Virginia border.

A NOAA-backed team posted new images of the wreck this week, showing the ship’s remains clearly sitting upright on the ocean floor, with a debris field scattered around it in every direction.

The shipwreck is about 45 nautical miles off the coast, and sits at a depth of 130 to 160 feet, NOAA says.

It was mapped July 18 as part of a new technology demonstration using synthetic aperture sonar equipment towed through the water above the site, officials said.

“The detail is amazing,” noted a July 22 NOAA post on Facebook.

While the wreck itself was made clearer by the new technology, its identity remains a mystery, says team member Rod Mather, of the University of Rhode Island.

“It is likely a World War II freighter with evidence of degradation typical of World War II-era freighters,” Mather reported. “Within the image, one can observe the single propeller shaft, machinery, and boiler spaces.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s new virtual archeology museum uses 3D models, underwater video and detailed maps to give people the chance to explore ocean shipwrecks off the US coast.

The image, posted on Saturday, is the first of several wrecks the team is mapping this month off the East Coast, using new technology systems created by Kraken Robotics.

On Monday, the explorers captured images of a tanker believed to be the Norness, “which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Long Island during World War II,” says NOAA.

And on Tuesday, the new sonar was used to map the wreck of the USS Murphy, a World World II U.S. Navy destroyer that sank in New York Harbor in 1943, after being hit by a tanker, said a Facebook post.

“This type of data can be used for site identification, assessment, and monitoring of Underwater Cultural Heritage sites over time,” said Mather in his report. “The resolution of the data are high enough that they could also contribute to site mapping for archaeological studies.”

Hundreds of shipwrecks are known to exist off North Carolina, which is often called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

The website North Carolina Shipwrecks reports the dangerous shoals and shifting sands off the Outer Banks have contributed to more than 5,000 shipwrecks since the early 1500s.

Among the wrecks are ships sunk by the Union Navy in the Civil War and freighters sunk by German U-boats during World War II.

Earlier this month, a NOAA-backed team tried and failed to find the location of a ship known as the S.S. Bloody Marsh. It was sunk off the South Carolina coast in 1943 by a German U-boat, says NOAA.

The fate of the S.S. Bloody Marsh is notorious for multiple reasons, including the fact the “U-66 surfaced to view the sinking ship and struck one of the lifeboats, knocking the sailors into the sea,” says maritime archaeologist Mike Brennan, who was part of the NOAA-backed expedition.

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