Under Sea with the USS Independence

USS Independence, E/V Nautilus, Dr. Robert Ballard, Bikini Atoll, underwater exploration, submarines, Hercules, Argus, radiological controls

On board the E/V Nautilus (Photo by Michelle Ule)

My husband recently took part in an expedition to examine the USS Independence.

He had a stimulating visit on board the E/V Nautilus with Dr. Robert Ballard, a crew of extraordinary scientists, and a few other visitors.

My Navy guy traveled as a guest, but as it happens, he’s a retired submariner.

He’s familiar with the US Navy, nuclear power, radiological controls, undersea work and even the Pacific Ocean.

He hadn’t expected to be in his element, but he was.

I guess you really can’t take the sea out of the sailor . . .

The Mission

USS Independence, E/V Nautilus, Dr. Robert Ballard, Bikini Atoll, underwater exploration, submarines, Hercules, Argus, radiological controls

The USS Independence prior to scuttling. Photo: San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

My sailor traveled on a four-day expedition off the coast of San Francisco. The trip had two goals: to examine the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and to inspect the USS Independence, a WWII era aircraft carrier sunk in 1951 off the San Francisco coast, in an extremely deep canyon.

As explained on the E/V Nautilus’ website:

From decorated service in World War II to atomic testing in Bikini Atoll, USS Independence had a storied career. Scuttled in 1951 off of San Francisco, no one has seen this aircraft carrier since–until now. Nautilus conducted the first visual survey of Independence since her sinking and imaged the ship for photomosaic and microbathymetry data.

As described in the previous post, the Nautilus broadcasts their expeditions live and while my husband sat in the comfort of the lounge, he could see just what the underwater platform, the Hercules, saw.

The pictures Hercules took were extraordinary. Photos from the dive can be viewed on the Ocean Exploration Trust webpage.

USS Independence, E/V Nautilus, Dr. Robert Ballard, Bikini Atoll, underwater exploration, submarines, Hercules, Argus, radiological controls

View of 22mm anti-aircraft deck gun covered by a large glass sponge. Photographer: Julye Newlin Copyright: Ocean Exploration Trust

 What he saw

The Hercules and its companion Argus descended to an iron ship covered in sea bottom life.

Sponges and sea anemone grew on the metal surfaces  in a variety of colors and shapes.

They only grow on hard objects like rocks and sunken ships–things they can cling to–and basically turn them into reefs.

Even a mile down, they’re colorful and lush. Crabs scrabble about and fish dart in and out.

One of the guests asked why a mile deep under water without light, the sponges were so colorful.

They batted around answers until my husband laughed. “I think they’re colorful because they’re pretty.

A fine answer.

USS Independence, E/V Nautilus, Dr. Robert Ballard, Bikini Atoll, underwater exploration, submarines, Hercules, Argus, radiological controls

The airplane; Photographer: Julye Newlin Copyright: Ocean Exploration Trust

When the Hercules descended through an aviation elevator, the cameras pointed at a WWII airplane.

As the nameplate was covered with silt,  they couldn’t visually verify the plane’s name. (They knew which one was inside the USS Independence, however, so weren’t concerned).

The Hercules is only allowed to disturb specific items for which it has a permit. It did not have a permit to brush silt to see the nameplate. The Nautilus crew are scrupulous about obeying the rules.

What he said

The microphone was manned by a sea historian when the Hercules reached the Independence.

The historian was asked about possible radioactivity being released from the ship, but since he wasn’t trained in nuclear radiation, he couldn’t comment.

My submariner volunteered an answer, so they put him on the microphone. Dredging up his past, he explained:

“Originally the top of the aircraft carrier had been deemed radioactive because during a nuclear blast a large number of neutrons are released.

“They interact with iron (the ship) and make the iron radioactive (turning it into cobalt 60).

“Neutrons, however, don’t go through the water and therefore anything under the sea did not become radioactive.”

(Conclusions were those of my retired sailor).

Authorities sunk the ship under the ocean to contain that radioactivity.

USS Independence, E/V Nautilus, Dr. Robert Ballard, Bikini Atoll, underwater exploration, submarines, Hercules, Argus, radiological controls

Can you make out the ship’s name? Photographer: Julye Newlin Copyright: Ocean Exploration Trust

When the E/V Nautilus sampled for radioactivity, they found none.

The USS Independence is not radioactive, all the radiation has decayed away.

And no, they didn’t see any mutant sea life.

Conclusion

My sailor came away intellectually, physically and emotionally refreshed. He enjoyed the trip very much and has told the stories to many friends already.

What impressed him the most was the care and intelligent way the researchers, crew and professionals handled their tasks. He loved the lengthy conversations about the ocean, exploration, education and science.

We’re so thankful he got an opportunity to go.

Thanks Dr. Ballard, the friend who invited him, the E/V Nautilus crew and all the people who have gone to sea before him and left treasures to be found.

Tweetables

One rider’s experience on the E/V Nautilus. Click to Tweet

Sponges, anemones and the USS Independence on the seafloor. Click to Tweet

Sunken ships and radioactivity–not. Click to Tweet

 

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. I’m glad he was able to have such an incredible experience! It sounds fascinating.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  September 28, 2016

      It was! It took him 24 hours–semingly–of talking about it before we returned to normal!

      Reply
  2. I found this fascinating – I was following the story of the ‘rediscovery’ of the Independence, and this was icing on the cake. I always thought the role of the CVL’s was overlooked, and this is a small bit of redemption (after the tragic loss of the chance to save the Cabot, around the turn of the century).

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  October 1, 2016

      I thought you would enjoy this, Andrew. My husband wasn’t familiar with the Cabot, but then thought there might have been a line about it, or perhaps Halsey, in The Hunt for Red October. I don’t know the history, I’m just telling the story! Blessings.

      Reply

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