Saturday, January 12, 2013

3-D mapping allows viewers to 'swim' through Civil War wreck off Galveston

A three-dimensional map provides fascinating new details of the largely-intact wreckage of the only Union vessel sunk in combat in the Gulf of Mexico.

The CSS Alabama (background) battles the USS Hatteras. (Copyright, Tom Freeman)
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration on Friday released 3D sonar images of the USS Hatteras, which rests about 60 feet below the surface. Publication of the findings coincide with observances of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Galveston, Texas.

The Confederate raider Alabama sank the gunboat about 20 miles off Galveston on Jan. 11, 1863.

This three-dimensional sonar scan shows a top view of remains of the USS Hatteras. (Credit: NOAA)
"Most shipwreck survey maps are two-dimensional and based on observations made by sight, photographs or by feeling around in murky water while stretching a measuring tape," said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "Thanks to the high-resolution sonar, we have ... the ability for researchers and the public to virtually swim through the wreck's exposed remains and even look below the surface at structure buried in loose silt."

A diver examines the Hatteras' paddlewheel in September 2012 (Credit: Jesse Cancelmo)
Recent storms allowed for divers and researchers to survey the Hatteras. In a statement released by NOAA, Delgado said the sonar survey showed survival of most of one paddlewheel, and revealed most of the ship's stern and rudder are emerging from the sand.

The survey plots damage to the paddlewheel shaft and damage to engine room machinery.

"The engine room spaces were a dangerous place in the battle," Delgado said. "Cannon fire severed steam lines and filled these spaces with scalding steam. Fires broke out, and yet the crew stayed at their post to keep the ship running and fighting, and in here, two of them paid the ultimate price."

• Watch sonar video of USS Hatteras

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