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Scientists Live-Stream Exploration of Shipwrecks

Cups and plates in the steamship Portland's galley

Woods Hole scientists will be live-streaming as they explore shipwrecks on the seafloor starting on Tuesday.

Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) the scientists should be able to peek inside the iconic steamship Portland and an unidentified coal schooner within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off Gloucester. 


“[It’s] our first time going live with our research,” said Kirsten Meyer-Kaiser, project lead and assistant scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).  

Three days after Thanksgiving in 1898, the steamship Portland was caught in a blizzard on its voyage out of Boston. For years, scientists have wanted to know more about what exactly caused the shipwreck known as “New England’s Titanic.” 


“Is there any fuel left in the boiler room? Could the ship have sunk because it ran out of fuel?” Meyer-Kaiser wondered. “Or are there essential artifacts remaining in the galley area that can help us tell stories of the people who were onboard the vessel as essential workers?”  


Over the course of this expedition, which runs from Tuesday to Thursday, scientists will also try to learn more about a century-old mystery wreck that sits 500 feet below the ocean’s surface. Already, Meyer-Kaiser said, they’ve found some important artifacts in the schooner.


“We’ve found a shoe, what we believe is a telescope, what we think is a toilet bowl,” she said. “So all of those are clues to try to piece this together.” 


The expedition will also be an opportunity to observe the biodiversity that these wrecks attract.


“A lot of organisms love structure on the seafloor. So when you have a large shipwreck it becomes a magnet for all sorts of organisms to live,” she said. “So we see anemones, sponges, lots of fish on the wreck. And our audiences should definitely be able to see those things in action, in their habitat, as they live, on the seafloor.”  


This project is a collaboration between WHOI, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center, and Marine Imaging Technologies. 


Scientists will be available to answer questions about the project during several 45-minute livestreams posted to WHOI’s Facebook and YouTube pages throughout the three-day expedition.



Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.