NMC Students Map Bottom of Grand Traverse Bay

An underwater mapping project which began last summer in the Traverse City area is continuing this year, and it’s largely thanks to the help of local students.

Northwestern Michigan College’s Water Studies Institute is spending a month mapping the bottom of Grand Traverse Bay in the second phase of the Grand Traverse Bay Hydrographic Research Project.

Assisted by student interns from NMC’s Freshwater Studies degree program and Great Lakes Maritime Academy as well as Michigan Sea Grant, NMC is conducting advanced multibeam hydrographic surveys of both east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay and northern Lake Michigan. All research is being conducted onboard the NMC research vessel Northwestern and continues through Aug. 12.

According to NMC, the device being used to map the bay — a Kongsberg EM3002 multibeam sonar — provides a very detailed image of the bottom and can resolve bottom features as small as sand waves. Coverage from the multibeam sonar can exceed 600 meters across while moving forward at speeds up to 8 knots.

Last year’s mapping concentrated on shallower areas of the bays and pinpointed for the first time the wreck of a ship, the Lauren Castle, near Suttons Bay. When research concludes next month, a majority of the arms of Grand Traverse Bay will be mapped. The data will result in the first new maps in 80 years.

“The sophistication of this equipment is phenomenal.  This is the first time the bays have ever been imaged to this resolution,” said Hans VanSumeren, director of the Water Studies Institute.

NMC said that the finished maps, which are expected next March, will provide important updated and expanded information with multiple applications, including environmental impact assessments, commercial navigation charts and supporting fisheries.
The research is providing valuable hands-on experience for students in two NMC programs: Freshwater Studies and the Great Lakes Maritime Academy.

“We are very excited to have our students be integral to success of this project. They are learning skills people don’t get until grad school,” Van Sumeren said. “The skills and competencies that they will gain from this project are highly desirable by employers around the world.  WSI has already received requests from employers asking about the availability of our graduates.”

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