World War II ended more than six decades ago, yet researchers and historians are still discovering things from that era today. One such discovery was that of the USS Independence, which served as an aircraft carrier. Keep reading to learn about the deep-sea expedition to find the ship!
The USS Independence was in service from 1943-1945, and it even sunk a Japanese battleship during World War II in the fight for the Philippines. As time went on, however, the impressive ship was damaged during atomic testing at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific in the 1940s. In 1951, the ship was scuttled out about 30 miles from San Francisco and has remained there for more than 60 years.
This is what the Independence looked like when it was fully functional during World War II. Pretty impressive-looking, is it not? It’s crazy to think that something this majestic is now at the bottom of the ocean…
The Independence really was subjected to a lot during its life: the atomic testing caused damage by shock waves, heat and radiation. It was also the primary focus of the Navy’s tests on decontamination. All of this information makes the rest of the story that much more impressive!
Just last summer, a team of researchers from NOAA and Boeing located the ship after surveying the area extensively. They set out on the exploration vessel Nautilus for a month-long journey. They found Independence resting on the ocean floor near California’s Farallon Islands at 2,600 feet.
The team aboard Nautilus is led by Robert Ballard, who has quite the resume. He’s known for his discoveries of the Titanic, and the Bismarck - a German battleship. Not to mention, the team also made headlines for the discovery of this adorable new species of squid in the same month!
Next, they created a 3-D sonar map of the ship. In order to do this, the team used an underwater vehicle, called the Echo Ranger, to scope out the area on the ocean floor. They used various other robotic submarines in addition to get a better idea of what the ship looked like. What they saw was pretty surprising!
They found that the USS Independence was shockingly mostly intact. It was also sitting upright, and the word “independence” written on the ship’s surface was reportedly still legible. Interestingly, the researchers estimated that there are around 300 other wrecks in the surrounding area.
The robot submarines found that there was even a fighter plane in the carrier’s hangar bay that had sunk along with it. Researchers were shocked to find the fighter plane, as they were given no indication via sonar that it was there.
“After  years on the seafloor, Independence sits on the bottom as if ready to launch its planes,” said James Delgado, the maritime heritage director for NOAA’s Office of National Maritime Sanctuaries.
Photos, like this one, have also shown that the Independence still has the anti-air turrets mounted to its side. They may be covered in sea sponges and lots of other crazy-looking marine life, but they’re there nonetheless! It’s also remarkable how clear photos of the bottom of the ocean are in this day and age!
Nowadays, the USS Independence serves a bit of a different purpose: it’s being occupied by various kinds of marine life. In a weird way, it’s almost kind of comforting to know that a sunken ship that likely saw a lot of destruction in its day is now playing home to so many creatures!
“This ship fought a long, hard war in the Pacific and after the war was subjected to two atomic blasts that ripped through the ship,” said Delgado. This information just makes it even more amazing that the Independence was able to stay in such good condition throughout the years! The researchers were able to map out the damages caused by the atomic blasts.
Delgado says that there are no current plans to actually enter the Independence or to survey drums of hazardous waste, due to there having been drums dumped into the sanctuary between 1946 and 1970. Furthermore, he says that there were no traces of any of the hazardous or radioactive waste during the recent exploration of the Independence.
This expedition is part of an ongoing two-year mission to map out and study other shipwrecks in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
“By using technology to create three-dimensional maps of the seafloor and wrecks like Independence, we can not only explore, but share what we’ve learned with the public and other scientists,” said Frank Cantelas, archaeologist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
Who knows what else they’ll discover sitting at the bottom of the ocean!
If you want to see what the Nautilus team is up to right at this very moment, check them out here. You can literally watch the submarines as they explore what’s at the bottom of the ocean in real time! Pretty freakin’ cool, isn’t it?