Map is based on eight years of scientific research

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-On July 7, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz gathered with researchers at Middlebury College’s McCardell Bicentennial Hall to unveil a new eight-foot bathymetric map illustrating the most comprehensive and detailed understanding ever available of Lake Champlain’s underwater terrain. They also discussed ways in which this new map and information will be shared with the public.


Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy unveil the new bathymetric map of Lake Champlain. Photo by Ari Joseph.

For a decade, a dedicated team of scientists and researchers from Middlebury College and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum have worked to complete the “Whole Lake Survey.” The Project was initiated in 1996 as a response to the zebra mussel invasion and concern for a then-undiscovered quantity of historic shipwrecks believed to be resting on the lake’s bottom. When researchers began the survey, less than 10 percent of the bottom of Lake Champlain had been examined. When the survey was complete, they had collected images of more than 95 percent of the lake bottom using state-of-the-art marine survey technology. More than 70 new shipwrecks had been discovered as well.

“Middlebury College faculty members Pat and Tom Manley and their student researchers have made an enormous contribution to our understanding of Lake Champlain with the creation of this map. Middlebury is particularly proud of collaborations such as these between students and faculty in the sciences and other disciplines. It is also an honor to be here today with Sen. Leahy and Art Cohn of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM), with whom we share as partners a passion for Lake Champlain, one of Vermont’s greatest natural resources,” said Liebowitz.

Leahy, a longtime supporter of the lake survey project and the Lake Champlain Basin Program who has secured essential federal contributions for both efforts, said, “Not only is Lake Champlain among our nation’s most precious resources, but historically it may be the most significant body of water in North America. The survey results clearly document the lake’s extraordinary collection of shipwrecks. This new map, with its new insights into the bottom topography of the lake, will also prove to be an invaluable aid to researchers in understanding the role of hyrodynamics in the lake’s living ecology.”

Cohn, who served as project manager of the survey, said, “To discover and inventory this amazing legacy of intact shipwrecks that reflect on the evolution of the nation and the region has been extraordinary. To redefine through this new map the underwater topography of Lake Champlain has been remarkable as well. I feel humbled and privileged to have had these opportunities as part of the ‘Whole Lake Survey’ team.”


Map courtesy of Middlebury College

From its inception, the lake survey had two distinct objectives: to locate and document Lake Champlain’s shipwrecks in their pre-zebra mussel condition and to use the same set of data to create a new understanding of the landscape and processes that have shaped and formed the bottom of Lake Champlain. Present-day nautical charts of the lake are actually based on depths mapped by the United States government in 1879. Prior to today, these lead-line measurements of various locations, exhibited in their present form on charts published by NOAA, represented the best available data used by mariners, the public and the research community.

The Manleys and other researchers used side-scan sonar to map the bottom of Lake Champlain systematically for the lake survey. For seven years, students enrolled in oceanography and marine geology classes at Middlebury College teamed up with the Manleys to gathered additional lake depth information as part of their coursework from aboard the college’s research vessel, the R/V Baldwin. The combined data served as the foundation of the new bathymetric map. Offering fresh details related to the form and structure of the lake floor, the map reveals the presence of several new features, such as shoals, rises, plateaus and faults. The map also offers insight into the increased extent and alignment of some of the already known features, including Juniper Ridge, located off Burlington Bay.

Significant advances in remote sensing technology made the survey possible. The principal survey tool was side-scan sonar, a torpedo shaped device towed behind the primary research vessel, the R/V Neptune. The development of two new technologies also contributed to the survey results: Differential Global Positioning Systems (DGPS), a series of satellites that continuously and accurately plot the boat’s position, and computers that collect, process and store vast quantities of sonar, positioning and depth information. The original data for previous maps of the lake bottom consisted of fewer than 10,000 depth measurements while the amount of information obtained to produce the new map comprised nearly 735,000 measurements.

To create the map, researchers collected data over a period of eight years, and methodically processed it for the next two. The Manleys worked with a number of student researchers to complete the processing stage. The principal student participants were Laura Kelly, a member of the Middlebury College class of 2006; G. Burch Fisher, a 2003 graduate of Middlebury College; and Joseph Coish, a 2005 graduate of Middlebury Union High School.

Funding and Institutional Support

The “Whole Lake Survey” was completed with the support of a number of organizations and individuals.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Lake Champlain’s leading advocate, championed the effort.

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and its staff provided the institutional base of support for the survey.

Middlebury College provided the sonar technology and student support throughout the survey.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program provided continuity of funding and technical support for the survey.

The Freeman Foundation and the Lintilhac Foundation provided significant funding for the “Whole Lake Survey.” The Lintilhac Foundation provided additional funding for the post-processing phase of the project.

The “Whole Lake Survey” also received financial support, technical contributions and encouragement from The Argosy Foundation, Department of Defense Legacy Program; National Park Service; New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; New York Lake Champlain Citizens Advisory Committee; New York State Museum; New York State Office of General Services; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; United States Environmental Protection Agency; Vermont Agency of Transportation; Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation; Vermont Department of Forrest, Parks and Recreation; Vermont Division of Historic Preservation; and the Vermont Lake Champlain Citizens Advisory Committee.

The principal members of the “Whole Lake Survey” team included Art Cohn, executive director of LCMM, who served as project director and dive master. Other members who initially became involved in the project through their association with LCMM were Fred Fayette, captain and engineer of the R/V Neptune; Peter Barranco, historian and navigator; Kathy Bauman, navigator; and Adam Kane and Pierre LaRocque, nautical archaeologists. Members of the team from Middlebury College were Pat Manley, associate professor of geology, marine geologist, and sonar specialist, and Tom Manley, visiting assistant professor of geology, oceanographer, sonar operator, digital archivist and processor, and captain of the R/V Baldwin.

Middlebury College alumni who served as summer interns when they were students by participating in the field programs were Anna Cotton, a 2002 graduate; Dylan Cutler, a 2004 graduate; Billie-Jo Gauley, a 1999 graduate; Seth Haines, a 1997 graduate; Matt Hommeyer, a 2002 graduate; Nick Prigo, a 2003 graduate; and Bret Tibault, a 1999 graduate. Laura Kelly, a member of the class of 2006, also served as a summer intern as did Marc Manley, a former Middlebury staff member.

Additional Contacts

John Goodrow
Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy
199 Main Street
Burlington, VT 05401

Art Cohn
Executive Director, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
4472 Basin Harbor Road
Vergennes, VT 05491

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