Sonar helps to map Civil War, WWII shipwrecks

Posted: 07/02/2011 in all marine news

Brock Vergakis – 

World War II shipwrecks off North Carolina and Civil War shipwrecks in Virginia are being analyzed with sonar technology so sophisticated that the public could one day view near photographic images in detail even better than diving at some of the sites could provide.

Federal researchers are using sonars to gather data that will result in vivid, three-dimensional images of the shipwrecks that will likely end up online, in museums and as part of other programs designed to promote American maritime heritage.

“Not everybody dives, and so that’s why we embrace technologies like this that are cutting-edge, cost-effective and give you a three-dimensional sense of that ship on the bottom,” said James Delgado, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maritime Heritage Program. “The kinds of imagery — it’s almost photographic.”

Shipwrecks are often popular dive sites, but obtaining detailed images of the ships would allow the public to view them without risk of damaging them and also help scientists determine the condition the ships are in as they try to develop better ways to preserve them. The technology also allows the public to view shipwrecks in waters that aren’t very clear.

On Tuesday, researchers headed to North Carolina’s Outer Banks to begin creating images of ships sunk in 1942 during the Battle of Atlantic.

On July 14, 1942, a merchant convoy of 19 ships and five military escorts left Hampton Roads en route to Key West, Fla., to deliver cargo to aid the war effort. A German submarine attacked Convoy KS-520 the next day off Cape Hatteras, and the U-boat was sunk by depth charges dropped by U.S. Navy aircraft.

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