Russ Green

Maritime Archaeologist, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary 

On Your Career…

What is your educational background?
BA, Psychology, University of Rhode Island, MA, Maritime Studies, East Carolina University

How did you end up in the field you are in today?
Curiosity about history I suppose, and a lifelong interest in the sea. Archaeology is a hands-on way to look at history and gives you a chance to be a detective.

Who or what inspired you to pursue this career?
Like most students, I had a great teacher or two along the way. These people made history come alive for me and challenged me to look at the past with an open mind and in new ways. The way that had the biggest impact, and attraction for me, was archaeology.

How and where do you conduct your work?
Much of the work I do is under the water: diving in the Great Lakes, particularly the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in northern Lake Huron.

What tools and/or technologies do you use in your work?
SCUBA gear is our most important tool- it allows us to breath underwater and spend time working directly with shipwrecks. Remotely Operated Vehicles, and even Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (an ROV that isn’t connected to the research vessel!) are important tools too. Each does something a little different and all are important tools in an archaeologist’s “toolbox.” History books are important too- we can learn a lot about a shipwreck without even getting wet.

What research projects are you currently involved in?
This week we are diving on a newly discovered shipwreck in 170 feet of water. We want to document the wreck (with picture, video and hand-drawn maps) so we can track changes to the site over the coming years. We trying to get a “snapshot” of what the site looks like today.

What have you learned so far from your research?
The most exciting thing we’ve learned is that the Great Lakes, and Lake Huron in particular, still has lots of secrets when to come to shipwrecks. On this particular shipwreck we are learning about its construction, use and sinking. It’s amazingly intact- a complete ship with masts still standing- that looks like it sailing through the sand. This ship is just one of hundreds around Thunder Bay- and by looking at these ships as a big collection we can learn what it was like to actually sail them, what they carried, and where they went. We know that these ships helped build America, but we also want to know who sailed on them and what their lives were like.

What do you like the best about your job?
The thrill of discovery and making what we see underwater more accessible to the public- both divers and non-divers. The sanctuary is like a National Park- but with all the cool stuff underwater. We want divers to enjoy diving here- and respect the shipwrecks. And we also want non-divers to experience the same thrill- through video and museum exhibits.

What do you like the least about your job?
Not getting to dive as much as I’d like! Diving is just part of my job and there is lots of paperwork and preparation that takes place before we start a project. But it’s all important. You can’t explore shipwrecks without a plan.

Where have you traveled for your work?
All along the eastern coast of the United States, Florida, Nevada (to dive on an airplane in huge lake), North Carolina to dive the Civil War shipwreck USS Monitor.

Where’s your favorite place that you’ve been to so far?
I love the east coast of the United States, particularly New England. It’s really the birthplace of maritime history in the U.S.

What is the most incredible thing that has happened to you while conducting your work?
While diving the Civil War shipwreck Monitor I had an overwhelming sense of respect and even sadness for the crew that lost their lives when she sank. The connection to history that archaeology provides- to real people and real events- is always powerful, but the personal connection to the men who went to sea in the Monitor is something I won’t ever forget. It’s sometimes hard not to think of history as a bunch of photographs, or populated with people very different than us. But history is populated with regular people just like us.

What are some of the different career opportunities that are associated with the work that you do?
A chance to work with new, cutting edge technology. Marine engineering and technology development.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in studying science?
Keep an open mind and don’t make up your mind about your career too early. Be forever curious and don’t worry too much about the size of your paycheck.

On Exploring the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary…

Why do research in the ocean in general and in the Thunder Bay region specifically?
There is still much about the oceans and Great Lakes that we don’t know. And if we don’t try and understand them better, we’ll have a tough time anticipating problems. Rather than react to a problem- like invasive species in the Great Lakes (the influx of fish and other aquatic invaders who don’t belong here and can disrupt the Lakes’ food chain), we need to be ready in advance. Research can help us prepare for bad events, but it also help us measure how much of an impact human beings have on our oceans and Great Lakes. In Thunder Bay we’re interested in finding out more about shipwrecks- and how human beings can enjoy and learn from them, without doing them harm. We want to make sure that future generations see what we see.

What about doing work in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is most exciting to you?
The fact that we are actively trying to protect shipwrecks for future generations is very exciting. Sometimes that means filming a shipwreck, or creating a map of one, other times it means convincing other people to “take only picture and lave only bubbles.” Once a shipwreck is damaged it cannot be repaired, and the information- the stories- that it contains are changed or lost forever.

What one thing would you most like kids to learn from studying the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary?
I’d like kids to walk away knowing that in their own lives anything is possible. And also that the world’s oceans and Great Lakes hold many exciting discoveries. Through these discoveries we’ll get a better idea of what changes human beings need to make to ensure that all the things in the oceans and Great Lakes- from fish to shipwrecks- stay healthy and protected.

On Being a Kid…

What advice do you wish that someone had given you when you were a kid?
I guess I liked a little bit of everything, but I remember really liking Beowulf- maybe because some of it took place underwater? More likely because of the adventure and time period.

What was your favorite subject when you were in middle school?
I really didn’t have one, though biology was pretty cool.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I never gave it a lot of thought, really. I just never thought in those terms.

What advice do you wish that someone had given you when you were a kid?
Don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up. Find subjects in school that you enjoy, but don’t shy away from those that seem too tough or boring.

On the Rest of Life…

Who are some of the people you look up to or admire?
Anyone with a positive attitude who is comfortable being his/her self.

When you are not working, what do you like to do for fun?
Hang out with my 2 year-old twin sons. Go sailing!

Do you have any final thoughts or words of advice that you would like to share?
Stay positive, be curious and be yourself. Stay open minded, work hard and have fun.

JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic