July 27, 2010

Scientists Creating 3D Map Of Titanic Wreck Site

Scientists plan to launch a new Titanic expedition next month to create a detailed three-dimensional map that will "virtually raise the Titanic" for the public.

The ASsociated Press (AP) reports that the expedition will take place 2 1/2 miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic and is said to be the most advanced scientific mission to the Titanic wreck site since its discovery 25 years ago.

The 20-day journey will leave on August 18 from St. John's Newfoundland under a partnership between RMS Titanic Inc., which has exclusive salvage rights to the wreck, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.  During the expedition, the scientists will not collect artifacts but will instead probe a 2-by-3-mile debris field.

Underwater scientists and organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be part of the expedition.

Organizers say the new scientific data and images will be accessible to the public.

"For the first time, we're really going to treat it as an archaeological site with two things in mind," David Gallo, an expedition leader and Woods Hole scientist, told AP on Monday. "One is to preserve the legacy of the ship by enhancing the story of the Titanic itself. The second part is to really understand what the state of the ship is."

The Titanic sunk on April 15, 1912, leaving 1,522 people dead after the ship struck ice.

Since oceanographer Robert Ballard and an international team discovered the sunken vessel in 1985, most of the expeditions have either been to photograph the wreck or gather thousands of artifacts. 

RMS Titanic made the last expedition to the site in 2004.  The company conducts traveling displays of the Titanic artifacts, which it says have been viewed by tens of millions of people around the world.

"We believe there's still a number of really exciting mysteries to be discovered at the wreck site," Chris Davino, president of and CEO of Premier Exhibitions and RMS Titanic, told AP. "It's our contention that substantial portions of the wreck site have never really been properly studied."
The "dream team" of archaeologists, oceanographers and other scientists want to get the best assessment yet on the two main sections of the ship, which have been subjected to fierce deep-ocean currents, salt water and intense pressure.

Gallo told AP that although the rate of Titanic's deterioration is not known, the expedition approaches the mission with a sense of urgency.

"We see places where it looks like the upper decks are getting thin, the walls are thin, the ceilings may be collapsing a bit," he said. "We hear all these anecdotal things about the ship is rusting away, it's collapsing on itself. No one really knows."

The scientists will use imaging technology and sonar devices that have never been used on the wreckage site.  The expedition will also probe nearly a century of sediment in the debris field in order to seek a full inventory of the ship's artifacts.

"We're actually treating it like a crime scene," Gallo said. "We want to know what's out there in that debris field, what the stern and the bow are looking like."

The expedition will include the RV Jean Charcot 250-foot research ship, along with three submersibles and the latest sonar, acoustic and filming technology.

"Never before have we had the scientific and technological means to discover so much of an expedition to Titanic," said P.H. Nargeolet, who is co-leading the expedition. He has made more than 30 dives to the wreck.

Bill Lange, a Woods Hole scientist who will lead the optical survey and also be one of the first to visit the wreck, told AP that a key analysis will be comparing images from the expedition 25 years ago and new images to measure decay and erosion.

"We're going to see things we haven't seen before. That's a given," he said. "The technology has really evolved in the last 25 years."

Davino said he anticipates future salvage expeditions to the wreck, and Gallo said he does not expect the science will end with one trip.

"I'm sure there will be future expeditions because this is the just the beginning of a whole new era of these kind of expeditions to Titanic "” serious, archaeological mapping expeditions," Gallo told AP.

RMS Titanic is still waiting for a judge's ruling in Norfolk, Va. on the 5,500 artifacts it has in its possession.

The company is hoping to obtain limited ownership of the artifacts as compensation for its salvage efforts.  The company put the fair market value of the collection at $110.9 million.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith has called the wreck an "international treasure."


On the Net: