Diver Kathy Trax explores an ancient submerged shoreline in Thunder Bay

Noble Odyssey Foundation Underwater Surveys

Published in the MICHIGAN COASTAL NEWS Spring 2007

What did Michigan’s Lake Huron coast look like several thousand years ago? Researchers with the Oakland County-based Noble Odyssey Foundation (NOF) explain that water levels were nearly 400 feet lower than they are at present, and today’s coastal lands were far inland. For some 4,000 years a limestone land bridge joined the area around Alpena to the base of Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, effectively dividing Lake Huron’s predecessor into at least two separate basins. In some areas, conifer forests grew on lands now far beneath the surface of the lake. Their remains provide organic carbon useful for dating prehistoric lake levels.

Bringing greater definition to this prehistoric picture is the aim of an ongoing NOF project, “Great Lakes, Ancient Shores.” This summer, foundation President, Master Diver, and Captain Luke Clyburn, and Science Advisor Dr. Elliott Smith will guide the research vessel, R/V Pride of Michigan, into the waters of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary for another season of underwater surveys. Researchers from Grand Valley State University, Wayne State University, Cranbrook Institute of Science, and the Marine Sanctuary will collaborate on the project. U.S. Naval Sea Cadets will assist with on-board operations and underwater research, and receive invaluable training and experience in return.

A major focus of the 2006 surveys was an investigation of underwater sinkholes, submarine springs, and the unusual life forms that inhabit them. These sinkholes formed when the limestone bedrock was exposed following the last Ice Age. Today some contain springs discharging groundwater with unusual chemistry, and associated with distinct microbial communities. In certain respects, these deep lake groundwater discharges are akin to deep sea vent communities, and may represent a unique ecosystem in the Great Lakes.

This year, the focus will shift to bathymetric surveys of ancient shorelines along the submerged Trans-Huron Land Bridge and a drowned river canyon in the Straits of Mackinac. Both areas will be explored for additional spring communities, forest remains, and for evidence of Paleo-Indian culture along ancient shores.

For published scientific research on Lake Huron sinkholes and drowned forests, we suggest the following journal articles:

  • Biddanda, B.A., D.F. Coleman, T.H. Johengen, S.A. Ruberg, G.A. Meadows, H.W. Van Sumeren, R.R. Rediske, and S.T. Kendall. 2006.
  • Exploration of a Submerged Sinkhole Ecosystem in Lake Huron. Ecosystems 9: 828-842.
  • Hunter, R.D., Panyushkina, R.P., S.W. Leavitt, A.C. Wiedenhoeft, and J. Zawiskie. 2006. A Multiproxy Environmental Investigation of Holocene Wood from a Submerged Conifer Forest in Lake Huron, USA. Quaternary Research 66: 67-77.
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