Project Description

Challenge #1: Investigation of MT6 Barge Wreck in Elliot Bay 

Sonar view of the wreck

Sonar view of the wreck in front of the sub seen within the Blue View sonar acquisition software

Team Members:

  • Amy Morren
  • Taylor Cross
  • Whitney Tuxbury


  • Rebecca Hartzler
  • Christian Sarason

Our first challenge was open to students in the “Ready, Set, Transfer” program at Seattle Central College (SCC). In January 2015 we solicited proposals to investigate the site of a shipwreck in Elliot Bay, near Seattle’s waterfront. The MT6 is a railcar ferry barge that sank to a depth of about 150 m after a collision in 1949. Interested students attended an introductory presentation by Christian Sarason and then submitted pre-proposals. After consulting with Christian, these pre-proposals were expanded into full-fledged proposals submitted about a month after the initial deadline.

OTO First Team

Open The Oceans First Team with adviser standing in front of planning board excited for the expedition ahead of them.

The winning team consisted of three students with backgrounds in music performance, restaurants, and social work now working towards careers in engineering and medicine. The team was interested in investigating the cause of shipwreck as well as the habitat that the sunken barge was providing to animals on the seabed. Their plans included 2D and 3D sonar surveys, photographic records, and use of 3D sonar as input to a 3D printer being constructed by two of the team members. They documented their progress via a WordPress blog (

Once selected, the team met several times with Christian and their faculty advisor in order to plan for the dive. The meetings had them working side-by-side with more experienced scientists and were a crucial part of their challenge experience. The dives occurred on two consecutive days in April 2015 using the submersible Antipodes operated by OceanGate Inc.

Photo from the Seattle Central College note about the students dive.

Photo from the Seattle Central College note about the students dive.

The students described their dives on their blog:

Dive Day 1: “Settling down on the ocean floor for the first time with crushing pressure outside Antipodes was an eerie and spectacular experience. . . . We collected 2D sonar data and a small amount of 3D sonar data before we lost sonar pan and tilt connection. [Our pilot] Josh was able to navigate us around the stern and port side of the wreck where we gathered limited visual video and photograph data due to strong currents and limited visibility. We did identify a cluster of plumose anemones and a lone echinoderm on the wreckage itself. Down on the ocean bottom we also saw cone jellies, shrimp, crabs, chaetognatha, and lots of rat fish!

Getting actual visuals on the wreck was absolutely incredible! The wreck has probably received very few human visitors in the past 65 years! As condensation began collecting, we made our way back to the surface with a fantastic return to sunlight and oxygen. With a tow back to the pier and a debriefing with the top Kraken crew, we finished our first research dive aboard Antipodes!”

After the dives, OGF provided initial processing of the sonar data and continued to guide the team as they interpreted and combined the sonar and photographic data. The team also presented their experience and results to the physics class at SCC as part of the kick-off presentation for the next Open the Oceans challenge. The presentation continued their immersion in “real-life” science, allowing them to communicate their findings and see the relevance of their work to the students who would continue it.

In October 2015, the team submitted an abstract to Underwater Intervention, the world’s premier event for Commercial Diving Contractors, Remotely Operated Vehicles, Manned Submersibles, and all other aspects of the Underwater Operations Industry. Their abstract was accepted and they will be presenting their results and a reflection on their experience to leaders in the marine industry in February 2016!