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Full-sized scans reveal Titanic wreck as never seen before

May 17, 2023
The scan is made up from 700,000 images captured by submersibles
The scan is made up from 700,000 images captured by submersibles

NEW YORK — The world's most famous shipwreck has been revealed as never seen before.

The first full-sized digital scan of the Titanic, which lies 3,800m (12,500ft) down in the Atlantic, has been created using deep-sea mapping.

It provides a unique 3D view of the entire ship, enabling it to be seen as if the water has been drained away.

The hope is that this will shed new light on exactly what happened to the liner, which sank in 1912.

More than 1,500 people died when the ship struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.

"There are still questions, basic questions, that need to be answered about the ship," Parks Stephenson, a Titanic analyst, told BBC News.

He said the model was "one of the first major steps to driving the Titanic story towards evidence-based research - and not speculation."

The Titanic has been extensively explored since the wreck was discovered in 1985. But it's so huge that in the gloom of the deep, cameras can only ever show us tantalizing snapshots of the decaying ship - never the whole thing.

The new scan captures the wreck in its entirety, revealing a complete view of the Titanic. It lies in two parts, with the bow and the stern separated by about 800m (2,600ft). A huge debris field surrounds the broken vessel.

The scan was carried out in summer 2022 by Magellan Ltd, a deep-sea mapping company, and Atlantic Productions, who are making a documentary about the project.

Submersibles, remotely controlled by a team on board a specialist ship, spent more than 200 hours surveying the length and breadth of the wreck.

They took more than 700,000 images from every angle, creating an exact 3D reconstruction.

Magellan's Gerhard Seiffert, who led the planning for the expedition, said it was the largest underwater scanning project he'd ever undertaken.

"The depth of it, almost 4,000m, represents a challenge, and you have currents at the site, too - and we're not allowed to touch anything so as not to damage the wreck," he explained.

"And the other challenge is that you have to map every square centimeter - even uninteresting parts, like on the debris field you have to map mud, but you need this to fill in between all these interesting objects."

The scan shows both the scale of the ship, as well as some minute details, such as the serial number on one of the propellers.

The bow, now covered in stalactites of rust, is still instantly recognizable even 100 years after the ship was lost. Sitting on top is the boat deck, where a gaping hole provides a glimpse into a void where the grand staircase once stood.

The stern though, is a chaotic mess of metal. This part of the ship collapsed as it corkscrewed into the sea floor.

In the surrounding debris field, items are scattered, including ornate metalwork from the ship, statues and unopened champagne bottles. There are also personal possessions, including dozens of shoes resting on the sediment.

Parks Stephenson, who has studied the Titanic for many years, said he was "blown away" when he first saw the scans.

"It allows you to see the wreck as you can never see it from a submersible, and you can see the wreck in its entirety, you can see it in context and perspective. And what it's showing you now is the true state of the wreck."

He said that studying the scans could offer new insight into what happened to the Titanic on that fateful night of 1912.

"We really don't understand the character of the collision with the iceberg. We don't even know if she hit it along the starboard side, as is shown in all the movies - she might have grounded on the iceberg," he explained.

Studying the stern, he added, could reveal the mechanics of how the ship struck the sea floor.

The sea is taking its toll on the wreck, microbes are eating away at it and parts are disintegrating. Historians are well aware that time is running out to fully understand the maritime disaster.

But the scan now freezes the wreck in time, and will allow experts to pore over every tiny detail. The hope is the Titanic may yet give up its secrets. — BBC


May 17, 2023
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