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NOAA Partnership Conducts Live Webcast from The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve

by Ivar G. Babb1, Kevin Joy1, Anthony Girasoli2, John Wrynn2 Jeff Gray3, Ellen Brody3, Kate Kaufman3

A technician adjusts a tether on Phantom III ROV

NURC-NA&GL's Phantom III S2 ROV provided video documentation of the diver reconnaissance on the wreck of the Montana.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve (TBNMSUP) is the newest of the thirteen National Marine Sanctuaries and is only the second dedicated to the understanding and preservation of submerged cultural resources. It is suspected that over a hundred wrecks lie within the boundaries of the Sanctuary in waters ranging from 20 to over 200 foot depths. As such these wrecks represent a paradise for divers, but a mystery to the general public.

NOAA's Undersea Research Program's Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes has been working with the University of Connecticut's Information Technology Services (ITS) to develop a mobile, low-cost wireless network to broadcast high quality video from a ship to a shore base for outreach and educational purposes.

R/V Shenehon provided support for the dive activities

Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory's (GLERL) R/V Shenehon provided support for ROV and SCUBA dive activities.

Last month this wireless network was successfully tested by producing a live Webcast from Thunder Bay as a means to promote public awareness of the rich cultural history lying on the floor of Lake Huron. NURP Center's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was launched from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory's (GLERL) R/V Shenehon anchored over the wreck of the Montana, lying 60 feet below and 9 miles offshore. Two divers, the manager of the Sanctuary, Jeff Gray and GLERL scientist, Dave Fanslow entered the water and rendezvoused with the ROV on the wreck. For the next half hour the ROV followed the divers as they conducted a reconnaissance of the wreck, including documenting the distribution of two invasive species - the zebra mussels and round gobies. Sanctuary Cultural Resource Specialist Kate Thompson provided a descriptive voice-over commentary and interviews with the divers.

Schematic detailing the video setup for the Thunder Bay project

Wireless video configuration developed for Thunder Bay to enable the Webcast of live dive video. Larger view

The ROV followed the divers on the shipwreck, sending the video signal through it's tether to the ship where it was encoded and transmitted over the wireless network to shore. A companion video signal from a surface camera on the ship, used to show topside activity and narrate the action was also transmitted. The shore station was located at the Sanctuary office in Alpena, Michigan. The video was sent to a server at the University of Connecticut and from there to the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in West Hartford, CT. Live video has proven to be highly effective means of engaging Deaf learners. The video signal was also broadcast on a big screen monitor at the Sanctuary office, the GLERL in Ann Arbor, MI and the University of Connecticut in Groton. Instant Messenging over the wireless network provided a means for ASD and GLERL to interact live with the vessel, the ROV technicians, the divers and Sanctuary personnel.

This first test of a low cost means to transmit the excitement of underwater discovery and research worked well. The Sanctuary's Ellen Brody, one of the originators and supporters of the test, also orchestrated the broadcast for an audience at GLERL and called it a "stunning success." Students and teachers at the American School for the Deaf were similarly impressed; the following is a quote from teacher Denis Monte:

"Last week's broadcast was fantastic. The picture was very clear and only occasionally did we lose the signal. The students were fascinated and as you noticed, they had many questions. It felt like you were out there just for us and the students connected with that. Being able to dialog with the science team on the Shenehon gave the students the feeling that they were actually on the ship. They felt like they were actually in the water with the divers. What the students saw put real life to the oceanographic topics we have been discussing in class. One tenth grade student was so impressed with what he saw that it sparked in him an interest to become a diver so he could be part of that kind of research."


1) University of Connecticut - NOAA's Undersea Research Program's Center for the North Atlantic & Great Lakes
2) University of Connecticut - University Information Technology Services (UITS)
3) NOAA/NOS/OCRM/NMSP - Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve


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Updated: May 28, 2004