A team of researchers and students from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University have built a robot intrepid enough to brave the depths of the Gowanus Canal, and then report its findings back to us humans. The robot, named Brooklyn Atlantis I, is equipped with sensors that measure the canal's levels of pH, oxygen, temperature, air quality and salinity, as well as cameras, all of which should provide some interesting data. The Gowanus is so filled with crap (both literal and figurative) that it's tough to know precisely what resides in its murky sludge. After the jump, we've compiled a list of just a few of the things this brave little robot might capture on video.
Dead People and/or Zombies:
The rumor that the Gowanus once functioned as a Mafia dumping ground is a longstanding one, and it probably contains a more than a kernel of truth. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a few bodies were found floating in the canal including the president of the local Grain Handlers Union. But the real questions surround the bodies that didn't come to the surface. They may have gone in there dead, but with all the chemicals in that water, by now...who knows?
Before the Gowanus became a Superfund site, it was an actual commercial waterway that was used to transport things. Sonar readings have shown that quite a few sunken boats and barges—likely carrying things like grain, vinegar, and nuts—exist below the surface, as well as a few cars. And even if the cargo on those boats was pretty innocuous, who knows what else they could have been carrying. Gold? Doubloons? Gold Doubloons?
Incredibly, it is possible for life to exist in the Gowanus Canal. Even more incredibly, people eat that life. Apparently, it's true—a small group of local fishermen catch bluefish up to a foot long, then take 'em home and fry 'em up, using the logic that the fish don't live there, they were just passing through. Yeesh.
New York City has a combined sewage system, which means the water from the everything—sinks, toilets, showers—combines with rainwater in the underground sewers. That's fine and the sewage gets where it's supposed to go, except when it rains a lot, at which point all the sewer water makes a beeline for the Gowanus Canal. The point is basically that, as we've mentioned, the Gowanus Canal is full of crap.
The Toll Brothers' Hopes and Dreams:
The Toll Brothers' 500-unit mixed use project was abandoned, along with its $5.75 million down payment, after the canal was declared a Superfund site in 2010. Rumor has it that the ghost of those plans still lurks at the bottom of the canal, telling all the weird mutated fish about waterfront recreation facilities. Brooklyn Atlantis I should probably steer clear.
· A Robot Plumbs the Depths of the Gowanus Canal [NYT]
· Gowanus Canal coverage [Curbed]