This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.

by Melanie Damour


The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) oversees conventional and renewable energy development and marine minerals extraction in Federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf. BOEM is required to consider the potential effects of bureau-permitted activities on cultural resources prior to issuing leases or permits, per the National Historic Preservation Act (1966). After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, multiple research consortia and natural resource damage assessments focused on studying the spill’s impacts; however, none of these studies addressed the spill’s impacts on historic shipwrecks. As a result, BOEM and study partners developed a multidisciplinary study to assess micro- to macro-scale impacts from the spill on deepwater shipwrecks ranging in age from the 19th century through World War II. The Gulf of Mexico Shipwreck Corrosion, Hydrocarbon Exposure, Microbiology, and Archaeology Project, or GOM-SCHEMA, conducted a comparative analysis of wooden- and metal-hulled shipwrecks within and outside of the spill-impacted area through collection of microbiological, geochemical, and archaeological data (Damour et al. 2016). Using 3D laser and 3D sonar scanning systems, the project documented the shipwrecks’ post-spill state of preservation for comparison with existing geophysical and visual data collected prior to the spill. This paper will focus on results from two of the study sites: the oil tanker Halo, and the German U-boat U-166 (Mugge et al. 2019), both casualties of World War II in the Gulf of Mexico.

While 3D imaging of archaeological sites using laser, lidar, and other scanning systems has been a growing trend in terrestrial archaeology, its application for documenting submerged archaeological resources has only recently emerged. Marine archaeologists are taking advantage of innovations in 3D scanning systems and employing them as new tools for recording and interpreting shipwreck sites. These tools also enhance our capabilities for analyzing site formation processes in the marine environment. The GOM-SCHEMA project collected 3D sonar and 3D laser scans that will inform BOEM of the oil spill’s long-term impacts on deepwater shipwreck preservation. Repeated 3D scans will provide a time-series data set that can be used to identify and quantify areas of enhanced corrosion and inform long-term monitoring efforts.


Melanie Damour is a Marine Archaeologist and the Environmental Studies Coordinator for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) Gulf of Mexico Region office in New Orleans, Louisiana. Melanie earned BS (1998) and MA (2002) degrees from Florida State University, both focusing in marine archaeology. Melanie’s primary interest and area of expertise is historic shipwrecks. She has worked on shipwrecks ranging in depth from Florida’s shallow rivers and bays to several thousand feet in the Gulf of Mexico.