Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Macon Expedition, September 18 - September 22, 2006

Click on any name to read an interview from the expedition participants

Bruce Terrell, Robert Schwemmer, Chris Grech , Steve Rock, Kristof Richmond, Lee Y. Murai, Michele Roest, Noah Doughty, Erica Burton

Bruce Terrell top of page
Co-principal Investigator/Chief Archaeologist
Senior Archaeologist, National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA

What is your role on this cruise?
I am a Principal Investigator for the project (we have 3).  I am also the Chief Archaeologist.

What are your primary goals?
My goals are to obtain a high quality photomosaic of the primary fields of wreckage of the USS Macon and its Sparrowhawk scout planes. I also want high quality images of details of individual features to aid our understanding and interpretation of the archaeological remains.

What do you expect to find?
We know from a previous expedition about the basic features of the site. We are hoping to use high definition cameras and lights to bring these images to the public. We will be looking at aluminum girders, fuel tanks and the remarkably intact Sparrowhawk biplanes. We are hoping to identify parts of the Macon that may have been overlooked in the past. A major part of this cruise is to share the maritime heritage of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with the public.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
Favorite parts - The excitement of discovery, studying the material remains of a unique aircraft for which no other examples remain.
Least favorite part - The beds on research ships are too small!  I'm 6'4"!

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
I am the National Marine Sanctuary Program's Senior Maritime Archaeologist. I have been a historical archaeologist for over 30 years. I have worked as a maritime archaeologist for about 25 of those years. I found a graduate program that married my passion for history and archaeology with my lifelong love of the water. I was a competitive swimmer since I was 10 years old. I was always fascinated by diving and got my first diving certification when I was 17. When I became interested in maritime archaeology there were not many jobs available. In addition to study in an academic program, I volunteered on projects whenever I could. By volunteering I was able to get a lot of experience and to build a more extensive resume than many of my contemporaries which helped me when I applied for paying jobs.  Maritime archaeologists tend to move around a lot and live gypsy-like lifestyles for a long time.


Robert Schwemmer     top of page
Co-principal Investigator
West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Program Coordinator, NOAA

What is your role on this cruise?
I serve as co-principal investigator in my role as the Sanctuary Program’s West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Program Coordinator. My primary role is the coordination of field operations during the expedition with respect to the Sanctuary Program’s mission to conduct an archaeological survey of the USS Macon wreck site, in collaboration with my colleague Bruce Terrell, Senior Archaeologist National Marine Sanctuary Program.

What are your primary goals?
The primary technical goal of the mission is to conduct a comprehensive documentation of the site of the USS Macon and four aircraft that can be used to evaluate the archaeological context of the craft’s remains. This will allow NOAA and the U.S. Navy Historical Center to determine the condition of the site, the level of preservation of the archaeological remains and the potential for future research at the site. This will also provide an opportunity to identify the remaining elements of the aircraft. Site assessment will consist of documenting diagnostic features of the multiple component wreck site (airship and aircraft remains). The first and foremost goal of the fieldwork is to fly the ROV Tiburon at 6.5 feet (2 meters) above the wreck site and systematically record the visual remains of the airship and aircraft through high-definition video and high-resolution still photography. With the high resolution data collected a photomosaic of the site will be created. The secondary goal upon completion of the photomosaic phase of the expedition is to record in more detail specific features. Tiburon’s still camera, video zoom and pan/tilt cameras and precession parallel laser system for measuring will record dimensional features. The expedition will examine the aluminum structural remains of the airship and aircraft. Following the expedition an analysis will be conducted to compare the 2006 visual record to the site documentation in 1990/91. This may provide important data on the rate of degradation of aluminum in a deep-sea saltwater environment. This expedition will aid in the assessment of the USS Macon and four aircraft for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.

What do you expect to find?
Sunken wrecks, especially deepwater sites like the USS Macon and its four Sparrowhawk biplanes provide archaeologists and historians with a unique opportunity to study a true time-capsule. Unlike terrestrial archaeological sites found on land that can be contaminated by more modern events, underwater sites are typically isolated. Exploration of these underwater sites provides a snapshot of a given day in time. When the science team explores the USS Macon site they are detectives examining a wrecking event and everything they record is associated to February 12, 1935. Based on the first discovery of the site in 1990, we expect to locate what remains of the four biplanes and duralumin frames of the airship. Other larger artifacts include the control car, German-made Maybach gasoline engines and associated fuel tanks, structural eliminates of the hanger area as well as possibly some new discoveries as a result of the side-scan sonar survey conducted aboard the NOAA R/V McArthur II in 2005.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
Favorite part of these expeditions is having the opportunity to go where man has not gone before and explore our nation’s maritime past. This includes being outfitted with technological equipment to share with the public those experiences through high-definition video and still imagery. I’m sure there would be an endless list of students, teachers and the general public who would jump at the opportunity to participate in joining the science team during this expedition. Now through advancements in technology they too can share what the scientists are observing underwater via the Internet.

Favorite can also lead to least favorite. Typically on large research vessels like the Western Flyer, you will find some of the finest chefs preparing the meals follow by some wonder desserts that call out your name at all hours of the day and night. The Western Flyer is no exception, so you tend to add some extra pounds, not necessarily scientific data. On the mission side, some expeditions you may experience severe weather or mechanical problems which is not usual working in an ocean environment that reduce the amount of data you can gather.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Program Coordinator. Through my parents I was introduced to the ocean at an early age and had the wonderful opportunity to spend summers on Catalina Island where I spent hours under the water exploring. Later in life I worked in the motion picture industry where I pursued a certification as a SCUBA diver, which was almost 30 years ago. In the early 1980s I followed one of my dreams and that was diving on a shipwreck. The rest is “history,” for the next quarter century the majority of my underwater work has involved exploring ship and aircraft wrecks. Although diving on the wrecks was rewarding, I needed to know more about their history or the ship’s personality. I started to collect reference books and research material and massing databases of information. Today with over 4000 books on the subject and endless files, I gained a great deal of information on losses along the Pacific West Coast. One of my uncles on my mom’s side of the family is the steamboat inventor Robert Fulton, so there could be a bloodline relationship to my fixation. After 19 years in the motion picture industry I got involved in assisting the Sanctuary Program and National Park Service in conducting research for their shipwreck assessments. In 1993, I became a founding member of the Coastal Maritime Archaeology Resources group who assist the Sanctuary and Park in recording maritime heritage resources. In 1997, I joined the staff of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary through a grant with the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, where I currently serve on the Board of Directors. Approximately five years ago I joined NOAA’s Sanctuary Program as a federal employee in my current position as the West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Program Coordinator. Working with the Sanctuary Program, I have had wonderful opportunities exploring shipwrecks throughout our nation’s oceans and Great Lakes utilizing SCUBA diving equipment, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and sharing these experiences with the public through lectures, museum exhibits, Internet and published journals.


Chris Grech top of page
Co-principal Investigator
Deputy Director of Marine Operations, MBARI

What is your role on this cruise?
On this expedition I will be one of the principal investigators studying the wreck of the USS Macon. I had large part in putting together the operating plan for the expedition, conducting initial survey operations, and providing historical context. I have been involved in research at this site since 1989, and have participated and directed most of the previous expeditions to the wreck.

What are your primary goals?
Our primary goal is to perform a detailed survey of the wreck site using video and still cameras. Additionally, we hope to put together a large mosaic of the debris using our video system, along with advanced ROV-control software that MBARI and Stanford University have been collaborating on. Our third goal is to explore areas of possible wreckage that were identified during sonar survey operations in 2005. I also have a personal interest in using the latest marine technology to survey the site. The last time I dove on the wreck was in 1991. Since then, many advancements have been made in underwater lighting, navigation, and image-collection, which should yield much better results.

What do you expect to find?
We expect to see two debris fields from the USS Macon. They are about 400 meters apart, lying on a gentle slope with steep canyons on either side. One debris field includes the center of the airship, along with its Maybach airship engines, galley, and four Sparrowhawk Bi-planes. The other debris field includes the forward section of the airship, as well as the mooring-mast receptacle and the control car. I expect the wreck will show signs of deterioration since our last visit in 1991, since the airship was built for lightness rather than durability. The primary construction material is thin aluminum, which showed plenty of corrosion 15 years ago, and will probably be even more corroded now.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
My favorite part is meeting and working with new scientists who have never used a good scientific ROV for their underwater operations before. I also enjoy spending "quality time" with the MBARI marine operations staff who operate the RV Western Flyer and ROV Tiburon. Usually I get plenty of constructive feedback after a few nights on board.

Least favorite part. – I usually can’t sleep the first night on the ship and I am not fond of the crummy locks on the bathroom doors.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
Deputy Director Marine Operations.

My formal background is in electronics engineering, but I decided to change my plans when I encountered advanced calculus. I have always lived and worked around the ocean, and decided to work in an ocean-related field while working in a Navy R&D lab in San Diego. Not many people get to venture in the deep ocean and play with expensive, high–tech, and dangerous equipment. I knew at once that this was for me!

Having a good engineering and technical background and spending lots of time at sea is essential to my work. Before joining MBARI, I spent a lot of time in the commercial and government world of underwater operations, manufacturing, and field engineering using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). After playing a significant part in developing two successful ROV systems at MBARI, I decided to move onto more administrative challenges.


Steve Rock, Ph.D. top of page
Co-Principal Investigator
Professor of Aeornautics and Astronautics, Stanford University

What is your role on this cruise?
I am PI (chief scientist) on the project to develop the mosaicking technology that will be used at the Macon site.

What are your primary goals?
Creation of a successful mosaic of the Macon site.

What do you expect to find?
The Macon site is well surveyed. 

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
Applying new technologies in science field campaigns.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
Professor of Aeornautics and Astronautics at Stanford University; adjunct engineer at MBARI.


Kristof Richmond top of page
Graduate Assistant, Stanford University

What is your role on this cruise?
I am on board to help operate the real-time mosaicking and navigation system we have been developing at the Stanford Aerospace Robotics Lab to help the ROV Tiburon map out and navigate over the sea floor.

What are your primary goals?
My goal is to ensure the ROV is able to photograph the entire Macon site in high resolution. This means the ROV has to navigate precisely, and measure it's location to make sure it hasn't missed any spots. The system we have developed will help the ROV move in a pre-planned course (kind of like an autopilot on a plane), use it's high-definition camera snap images of the sea floor at appropriate times, and show a real-time composite picture of the looking down at the areas of the Macon wreckage flown over so far. These composite pictures are formed by stitching together thousands of individual images and thus are called image mosaics. Since light doesn't travel very far under water, you have to be within a few meters of the seafloor to take a picture of it. Making a mosaic is the only way to get a complete view of a large site like the Macon. I hope this site will provide a good demonstration of the system for my Ph.D. thesis.

What do you expect to find?
I expect to find a very exciting location with lots of interesting pieces of wreckage to take pictures of.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
I'm a late sleeper, so my least favorite part of the cruise is getting up early in the morning for the ROV dive, but then once the ROV is at the bottom of the ocean and we're making it move around, do what the scientists and pilots want, that's my favorite part.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
I am a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University.
I love mechanical things and computers (like the robotic ROV). It's great when you can get them to move and do things by themselves, especially in a really tough, remote environment like the bottom of the ocean. I've always taken things apart to see how they worked, and built things like paper airplanes, milk-carton rafts, model rockets, even my own iceyacht, and this sparked my interest in engineering, where you get to build even bigger and cooler things. Taking things apart, and building things myself gave me a good idea of how the world works, how to solve problems and how to make things do what I want them to. I've also studied a lot of math, physical sciences and computer science. These subjects have given me the tools and knowledge to make new things work better.


Lee Y. Murai top of page
GIS Coordinator
Graduate Student, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

What is your role on the cruise?
I am working as a GIS analyst on the cruise.

What are your primary goals?
My primary goals will be to make maps using previous data that have been collected in the study area such as sidescan sonar imagery and multibeam bathymetry.  Using the ROV navigation, I will be able to plot any features of interest we observe on the seafloor.

What do you expect to find?
We have a good idea about what will be found, however it will be interesting to compare visual observations of the Macon site with what we imaged using sidescan sonar.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
My favorite part of a research cruise is coming together with a group of individuals with various backgrounds to work on a common focus.

My least favorite part of a research cruise is being away from my family and friends, and not being able to go surfing.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
I am a graduate student at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories studying Geological Oceanography.  I have a great love for the ocean and the earth sciences are a dynamic and challenging field of study.


Michele Roest top of page
Education Specialist
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

What is your role on this cruise?
As part of the Sanctuary’s Education Team, my primary role is to support the educational elements of the expedition. These include working with the Teacher At Sea on board the cruise, Noah Doughty. I am also involved in providing education to the public about the expedition. We are hosting a series of workshops and educational materials to distribute after the trip. I will also assist in documentation of the information that is received from the ROV as it surveys the area.

What are your primary goals?
My primary goal is to be a team player on an expedition that has been planned for several years. The maritime historians are the stars of this trip – I’m here to help them achieve their goals.

What do you expect to find?
I hope we are able to find and get high-quality footage of the remains of a fascinating part of history that we can share with others. Since I’m a biologist, I also hope to see lots of interesting wildlife both above the surface and below. One of the exciting things about any expedition is the unknown element – it is the unexpected things that are most interesting.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
Opportunities to be on an expedition like this are rare. For me, the best part is that I get to be on it! Being on a boat always feels like an adventure. I have been on other research expeditions and am fascinated with all aspects. I suppose my least favorite part is the lack of privacy and space, but you get used to that pretty quickly.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one? 
My present job title is Outreach and Education Specialist for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. I work in a field office based in San Simeon. I have degrees in biology and have been an educator most of my adult life. I chose the job because it allows me to combine my interests in science and education. I enjoy learning about natural and cultural resources in the sanctuary and sharing that knowledge with others.


Noah Doughty top of page
NOAA Teacher-at-Sea
Mission College Preparatory High School, San Luis Obispo, CA.

What is your role on this cruise?
I will be a NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) Teacher-At-Sea.

What are your primary goals?
To find exciting ways to communicate the archeological and scientific endeavors of this cruise to the public.  To accomplish this goal I will take notes, interview crew members, and post a daily log with pictures.  When I return to my school, my students and I will work to develop a set of lesson plans about the USS MACON and the work being done here.

What do you expect to find?
In addition to the USS MACON there might be other wrecks in the area.  Or perhaps we might capture on film some creature that nobody has seen before.  With deep sea research the options are wide open.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
Favorite part - meeting the other crew members and hearing stories of past adventures. 

Least favorite part - lack of sleep!  Things can get busy and sleep sometimes becomes second priority.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
NOAA Teacher-at-Sea, but I spend most of my time as a high school science teacher. I applied to be a Teacher-At-Sea to help my students understand that science and exploration occurs every day.  Plus it sounded like the most incredible opportunity ever.  I got this position by going to the NOAA Teacher-At-Sea website (http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/) and filling out the application.  Why become a science teacher?   Because science is fantastic!  Being a science teacher can be a lot of work, but how many other jobs are there where you get to spend all day probing the great mysteries of life and then sharing that knowledge with others?   Excellent times!


Erica Burton  top of page
Research Specialist/ Annotation Coordinator
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

What is your role on this cruise?
As a marine scientist I will identify marine organisms at the Macon site and annotate video in real-time.

What are your primary goals?
Characterize the biological species composition at the Macon site.

What do you expect to find?
Encrusting organisms at the debris field. I hope to see a variety of deep-sea fishes, including grenadier, thornyhead, and skates.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of a research cruise?
My favorite part of a research cruise is always being excited and surprised by the diversity of habitats and species in the ocean, especially critters in the deep sea. My least favorite part is not getting enough sleep.

What is your job title? Why did you decide to become one? And how did you become one?
At the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, my job title is Research Specialist. As a young adult, I was fascinated by fishes, and became a certified scuba diver. I soon enrolled in a marine botany class that led to pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology at Long Beach State University. I also earned a Master of Science degree in marine science at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, specializing in age and growth of fishes.