Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

As the Escanaba Trough expedition wraps up, one somewhat prosaic mystery still lingers: Why do we call this seafloor spreading center Escanaba Trough? 

Its etymological story begins on the north shore of Lake Michigan, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The city of Escanaba, founded in the mid-1800s at the mouth of Escanaba River, takes its name from an Ojibwa/Chippewa term meaning either “flat rock” or “land of the red buck”. 

In 1932, the U.S. Coast Guard commissioned the construction of a 165-foot, 1,500-horsepower ship in Bay City, Michigan. This was the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Escanaba. As is customary for such vessels, the USCGC Escanaba was named after a significant geographical feature nearby—in this case, the river and community of Escanaba, about a five-hour drive from Bay City. 

The first USCGC Escanaba served on the Great Lakes, performing icebreaking duties and search-and-rescue operations. When World War II began, the Escanaba was sent overseas to assist with the war effort, earning plaudits in 1943 for rescuing 132 men from a torpedoed transport in the North Atlantic. 

black and white photograph of 3 ships
In 1932, the U.S. Coast Guard commissioned the construction of a 165-foot, 1,500-horsepower ship in Bay City, Michigan. This was the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Escanaba.

Later that year, while on a mission from Greenland to Newfoundland, the Escanaba herself was torpedoed by an enemy submarine and swiftly sank, tragically taking all but two of its 103 crewmembers down with it. 

The second Escanaba was built by Western Pipe and Steel Company in San Pedro, California, and began sailing in 1946. This 255-foot gunboat operated from its homeport in Alameda, California, until it was decommissioned in 1954. 

black and white photograph of a ship
The Escanaba was built by Western Pipe and Steel Company in San Pedro, California, and began sailing in 1946. This 255-foot gunboat operated from its homeport in Alameda, California, until it was decommissioned in 1954. 

This Escanaba engaged in law enforcement, long-term oceanographic observations, and search-and-rescue operations in the Pacific Ocean. While conducting deep-sea sonar surveys off the northern California coast in 1950, the ship discovered a broad, 3,000-meter-deep submarine trough almost 200 miles offshore. Subsequent scientific expeditions referred to this seafloor spreading area as Escanaba Trough, and the name stuck. 

Related Content