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An underwater ‘ghost fleet’ of wrecks on the road, and here’s why

Military shipwrecks dating as far back as the Revolutionary War and including the ships of the civil war and both world War I and world War II were intentionally sunk here at Mallows Bay in Maryland.
(Google Earth)

WASHINGTON — The history of sea-going vessels in the U.S. is preserved in an unlikely place — at the bottom of a river.

Almost 200 military shipwrecks dating as far back as the Revolutionary War and including the ships of the civil war and both world War I and world War II were intentionally sunk by the centuries, in an area of the Potomac River, Mallows Bay in Maryland. Over time, this so-called ghost fleet of wooden ships has come to serve as a habitat for local wildlife.

But is this artificial ecosystem stable? Researchers recently examined how the shipwrecks are changed over the time; of their findings, which is presented here, on Dec. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), explained how the bodies of the ships weathered river conditions — in some cases for hundreds of years — and how that might affect the future of the ghost fleet ecosystem. [Mayday! 17 Mysterious Shipwrecks that You Can See on Google Earth]

The four investigators were accompanied at AGU by a supervisor, if they’re all fifth-grade students attending the J. C. Parks elementary School in Maryland. A school trip to Mallows Bay last year inspired them to question how the ships got there and what happened to them after they were sunk, Renata Ashton, age 11, told Science.

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They consulted aerial maps of the spirit of the fleet were made decades apart, “and we looked at them to see what was moved and perish,” said Shyla Lancaster, also 11.

After comparing well-known ship positions in different maps, they discovered that some ships were definitely not sit — most of the ships were to shift to the east, a number of miles, they reported.

The natural forces that affect the ships included storms, floods and erosion, according to the 10-year-old Annabelle Nothing. The best preserved parts of the shipwrecks were deep in the mud, while the exposed areas showed more signs of deterioration, explained Kharylle Deramos, at the age of 10.

Together the vessels in the form of an extensive infrastructure that has become a habitat for the bald eagles, fish and other animals, and the site is currently eligible for designation as a marine sanctuary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But the degradation and drift could disrupt the balance of this ecosystem. Further evaluation of the site with underwater remotely operated vehicles will help determine how changes in the spirit of the fleet may affect the wild animals that live there, the researchers concluded.

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Original article on Live Science.

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