The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency Ship Nancy Foster was originally commissioned as a Navy Torpedo Test Craft in 1990 before transferring the vessel to NOAA. The 187-foot vessel was later outfitted as an oceanographic research platform and re-commissioned as NOAAS Nancy Foster in 2004 – named after the late Dr. Nancy Foster who served with distinction at the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Ocean Service.
NOAAS Nancy Foster is currently under the command of Cmdr. G. Mark Miller and supports such diverse missions as hydrographic surveys, coral reef assessments, water and sediment sampling, and fish population and habitat studies. Additionally, the platform can support small boat and diving operations, as well as Remotely Operated Vehicles and Autonomous Underwater Vehicle operations.
NOAAS Nancy Foster threw lines and pulled away from its dock in Morehead City, North Carolina, to begin its second leg of its journey on Aug. 21, 2018. The first leg of the journey concentrated on ROV operations, and the second leg focused on a two-pronged effort on archeological studies and fish habitat studies.
Aboard the ship was a scientific team of 12 divers from NOAA, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute. Their mission was to conduct an archeological assessment of LV-71 and Merak, both sunk on Aug. 6, 1918, as well as the Coast Guard Cutters Jackson and Bedloe, both lost in the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.
Although weather conditions did not permit diving operations, including the much-anticipated videography and still photography operations, scientists used multi-beam sonar technology to continue to map wreck sites. According to Dr. Erik Ebert, National Center for Coastal Ocean Science, multi-beam sonar has an array of transducers that simultaneously transmits pings (sound pulses) at a specified frequency to cover a large area. To generate data, computer software assigns a color range corresponding to the amount of sound reflected off a target. The distance to the target is determined by the length of time it took to receive the transmitted acoustic pulse. Use of this technology allows for high-resolution imagery, even in low visibility conditions. While a multi-beam scan was previously done of Jackson, scientists have just completed a detailed scan of Bedloe, which will be made public shortly.
While the primary purpose of this mission was an archeological one, there were scientists aboard who studied the habitat of each shipwreck, and determined what fish are utilizing the wreck by conducting fish transects.
According to Dr. Scott Mau, of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, biologists use a transect tape to measure distance and width along the wreck site. Volume, or the height of each swath studied, is based upon visibility. A team of two divers work together to count fish in the requisite area: the first diver counts the majority of the fish, while the second concentrates on counting those that are more difficult to see in the cracks and crevices.
“This is the ship’s second life,” said Ebert.
Why does this matter to the Coast Guard Historian’s Office? It matters because it is a part of our history, and part of America’s maritime history.
LV-71 protected mariners navigating the treacherous waters of Diamond Shoals off North Carolina for more than 20 years. On Aug. 6, 1918, the American steamship Merak was attacked by U-140. Hearing enemy fire, LV-71 reported by radio that an unknown vessel was being shelled near its location. That radio message was intercepted. The U-boat broke off its attack and headed for LV-71, firing its deck guns. Its 12-man crew managed to escape, rowing to shore yet their actions were a testimony to the service of Coast Guardsmen during the war. By their timely response to the imminent threat, according to a 1919 Lighthouse Service Bulletin, more than 25 vessels were warned away from danger, undoubtedly saving lives.