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Drumbeg Shipwreck – Sonar Surveys Below the Seafloor

1921 Ewen Mackay deploys the magnetometer

A team from our Scottish branch returned last week to the Drumbeg shipwreck, a 17th/18th century wreck in the NW Scottish Highlands. We have undertaken the first marine geophysical survey of the site, with the help of project partners from German hydrographic specialists INNOMAR and staff and students from the University of Bangor. The team was led by John McCarthy, Project Manager from our Edinburgh office with coordination of the geophysical survey by Dr Paul Baggaley, Head of GeoServices. We were also joined by local resident Ewen Mackay, who first discovered the wreck site while diving with his friend Michael Errington. They reported the site to Historic Scotland who has provided funding for the ongoing investigations. The first stage of these investigations began in in 2012 with a series of scuba dives to confirm the location and nature of the remains. Subsequent analysis of the data gathered by the divers found it to be a 17th/18th century wreck with several cannon and anchors present. Importantly a significant section of well-preserved wooden hull was also recorded. Since then the wreck has been designated as a Historic Marine Protected Area by the Scottish Government, one of a handful of wrecks in Scotland given this status in recognition of national significance.
 

1922 The survey team reviewing results of the sub-seabed sonar data on MV Nimrod

The purpose of last week’s survey was to establish whether there were further remains under the seabed. INNOMAR is a world leader in the design and construction of parametric sonar, an amazing technique that allows us to see remains below the seabed in three dimensions. Peter Huembs of INNOMAR flew over to Scotland from their HQ in Germany, bring a prototype parametric sensor. INNOMAR have kindly donated the use of this equipment and their staff time to this important archaeological survey. This is the first time this hardware has been tested in British waters and it is ideally suited to the conditions on the wreck site. This array is capable of creating a dense three dimensional point cloud showing us where hard surfaces occur below the sands. At the site the survey penetrated the sand by more than 2 metres!
 

1923 Dr Dei Huws establishing a dGPS base station on the mountain above the wreck site

We were also joined by Dr Dei Huws, Senior Lecturer in Marine Geophysics at the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University in Wales. Dei is an expert in the use and interpretation of geophysical survey data and will be processing the resulting data. Dei and Bangor student Penny Haywood also provided the highly accurate GPS equipment needed for the survey. Alongside the sonar we undertook a magnetometer survey of the wider area around the wreck site. This will help us to establish whether there are more areas of wreckage further away from the main wreck site that might have been overlooked. This project has been a great example of the use of cutting-edge technology to investigate important and sensitive shipwreck sites in a non-intrusive and non-destructive way. We will be processing data and releasing the results early next year so watch this space!
 
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