Conversations About Landscape: Marine Archaeology of the Atomic Age

Exploring the Wreck of the USS Independence

Thursday, August 18, 2016 • 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Exploratorium, Pier 15 (Embarcadero at Green Street), Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery

Free; RSVP required. Email reserve@exploratorium.edu, or call 415.528.5555, and choose option 5.


Just offshore from Half Moon Bay, where the Monterey Bay and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries meet, lie the submerged, battered remains of the once-mighty USS Independence. An aircraft carrier used in World War II, it served as a target in America’s first atomic weapons test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Surprisingly, the USS Independence survived two nuclear blasts and was towed back to San Francisco in 1947, where it was used for further radiation training and testing at Hunters Point. In 1951, it was towed out through the Golden Gate and sunk with explosives in what is now Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Beginning August 22, modern day explorers aboard the E/V Nautilus, a high-tech ship operated by Robert Ballard and the Ocean Exploration Trust, will go back to USS Independence to take the first look at the wreck, which until now has only been mapped with deep-sea sonar. This will be the first time human eyes will see Independence in 65 years. Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) on Nautilus, scientists and technicians will conduct a detailed survey and photographic mapping of the wreck.

Join the Chief Scientist for the Independence mission, Dr. James Delgado, Director of NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, for a preview of the expedition and discussion of the history and archaeology of America's first atomic weapons test. Dr. Delgado was part of a National Park Service team that conducted a detailed archaeological survey of the sunken ships at Bikini and nearby Kwajalein Atoll from 1989 to 1990, and was the principal author of the scientific report on the surveys. He was also the Chief Scientist for a NOAA/Boeing Company sonar survey of the USS Independence in 2015.  

Dr. Delgado will be joined by experts who will discuss radiation testing of the shipwreck and the cultural and scientific history of the Atomic Age in the Bay Area and beyond.