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USGS Researchers Collaborate with National Park Service Archeologists to Better Predict the Life Expectancy of the USS Arizona

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drop of No. 6 fuel oil leaking from the starboard midships of the USS Arizona
Oil leak: Underwater photograph of a drop of No. 6 fuel oil leaking from the starboard midships of the USS Arizona. The drop is about 2 cm across. Collapse of the deteriorating fuel bunkers could cause a catastrophic release of this oil into Pearl Harbor. Photograph by Curt Storlazzi.
The USS Arizona was one of seven active battleships attacked and damaged by Japanese aircraft on the morning of December 7, 1941, in the first act of World War II against the United States in the Pacific. Six of the battleships were raised to fight again, but the USS Arizona continues to rest in 13 m of water on the fine gray silt of O'ahu's Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i. In 1980, the National Park Service (NPS) inherited the USS Arizona Memorial and manages the site.

As many visitors (more than 1,000 per day) have noticed, black fuel oil leaks from the hull at a rate of about a quart per day, causing a shimmer of colors on the surface waters. Over the past 6 decades, the hull has undergone substantial deterioration in the harbor's corrosive environment; bulkheads have collapsed, and many of the ship's overheads are corroded and weakened.

More than half a million gallons of fuel oil still trapped in the fractured hull poses a serious environmental risk, with the potential for much of the oil being released into the harbor when the Arizona's fuel bunkers finally give way. This threat led to a major initiative started in 2000 by the NPS to document the condition of the USS Arizona in order to answer some basic questions: What is happening to the wreck? How long will it remain intact?

Since 2000, archeologists from the NPS' Submerged Resources Center (SRC) have conducted several surveys of the USS Arizona. In addition, engineers from the University of Nebraska have conducted detailed studies of the corrosion rate of the hull's metal and the present structural integrity of the ship. In fall 2002, Mike Field (USGS, Santa Cruz, CA) was asked by NPS-SRC archeologists Larry Murphy and Matt Russell for advice on deploying oceanographic instruments on the Arizona to make measurements of the seawater environment around the ship. Mike brought in Curt Storlazzi (USGS, Santa Cruz, CA) to design an experiment setup, instrument mounts, sampling routines, and deployment and recovery protocols for Marshall Owens, the USS Arizona Memorial's curator.

USS Arizona memorial
Mike Field (left) and Curt Storlazzi on the dock of the USS Arizona Memorial after deployment of an instrument package. Photograph by Matt Russell (NPS).
discussing the second deployment dive
Matt Russell (NPS-SRC, left), Mike Field (center) and Marshall Owens (NPS, Memorial Curator, right) on the dock of the USS Arizona Memorial, discussing the second deployment dive. Photograph by Curt Storlazzi.

In early November, Kevin O'Toole and Walt Olson of the USGS' Marine Facility in Redwood City, CA, built the mounts for a wave/tide/current-meter package and a separate multisensor to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and reduction potential. On November 19 and 20, Mike and Curt worked with NPS archeologists and Memorial staff to build and program the instrument packages, and they trained NPS staff in instrument-recovery-and-deployment protocols.

bomb hole
Bomb impact: Underwater photograph of the hole in the forward deck between turrets numbers one and two, created by the Japanese aerial bomb that ignited the forward powder magazine and sank the USS Arizona. Photograph by Mike Field.
Mike and Curt then worked with Matt and Marshall to install the wave/tide/current-meter package over the course of two scuba dives. The package was deployed in 13 m of water on the harbor's muddy bottom, 30 m seaward of the Arizona's forward port quarter, in water visibility that dropped from 3 m to less than a few centimeters as the sea-floor mud was stirred up during deployment. The multisensor is being installed on the Arizona's deck by NPS personnel in December.

After the successful deployment of the wave/tide/current-meter package, Matt and Marshall gave an hour-long underwater reconnaissance tour of the USS Arizona to Mike and Curt. They were shown bomb damage, artifacts, exposed intact teak deck, and the number-one turret with its three 14-inch guns. Interestingly, the turret was thought to have been removed by the Navy during salvage operations in 1942 but was found intact on the hull by NPS archeologists in 1983.

Every 2 months for 1 year, the NPS staff will send the instrument data to Curt, who will analyze the data to gain a better understanding of the harbor's environment and what controls it. This information, in turn, will be used to more accurately predict the life expectancy of the USS Arizona's hull and fuel bunkers. USGS researchers, along with NPS staff, hope to establish a cooperative program to continue this scientific effort on behalf of one of the Nation's most hallowed grounds and a potent symbol of our history.

Related Web Sites
USGS Marine Facility
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Redwood City, CA
USS Arizona Memorial
U.S. National Park Service (NPS)
Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (SCRU)
U.S. National Park Service (NPS)

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in this issue: Fieldwork cover story:
USS Arizona

Adriatic Sea Sediment-Transport Cruise

Bear Lake Sea-Floor Mapping

Assateague Island Vegetation Mapping

Field-Testing New Portable Drilling System

Research Diamondback Terrapin

Outreach Transoceanic Dust Impacts

Woods Hole Field Center Open House

St. Petersburg Field Center Open House

Great American Teach-In

Fourth-Graders Tour St. Petersburg Field Center

Girl Scouts 90th Anniversary


Meetings Effects of Fishing Activities on Benthic Habitats

Planning Gas-Hydrates Research

Science and Politics in Ecosystem Decisions

Sea-Floor Mapping Techniques

Staff & Center News GHASTLI Lab Visitors

Science Museum Board

Two New Scientists

Louisiana Coastal-Restoration Advisory Board

Air Medical Transport Center Tour

MRIB Programmer

New Webmistress

Publications Dec./Jan. Publications List

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