Titanic Wreck Site Mapped for First Time Using Sonar Imaging

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Researchers have pieced together the first comprehensive map of the Titanic wreck site and debris field, the Associated Press reports. The History Channel will release the images in a documentary in April, marking the centennial of the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage.

In 2010, underwater robots sent to the icy depths took more than 100,000 photos. An expedition team then stitched the photos together through sonar imaging, producing a map which depicts the location of hundreds of objects and pieces of the ship that settled on the floor of the Atlantic.

Experts expect the map to provide new insights into the events surrounding the disaster, which has garnered international fascination for the past century. Researchers noted marks in the mud that suggested the ship’s stern rotated, much like a helicopter blade, as the ship sank, rather than simply plummeting straight down. Previous maps of the wreck site were incomplete and unable to shed light on these kinds of nuanced details.

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“With the sonar map, it’s like suddenly the entire room lit up and you can go from room to room with a magnifying glass and document it,” Parks Stephenson, a Titanic historian, told the AP. “Nothing like this has ever been done for the Titanic site.”

RMS Titanic Inc., the entity that legally owns the wreckage, spearheaded the project, teaming with the Waitt Institute of La Jolla, Calif., and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Falmouth, Mass. The two autonomous robots sent into the murky depths moved at a little more than 3 miles per hour, using side-scan sonar to capture images of the wreckage. Once pieced together, the map created a tool that allowed the researchers to examine the wreck site much the way an airplane wreck could be studied on land.

Studying the debris allows investigators to answer questions like how the vessel broke apart, how it went down and whether there existed a fatal structural defect, Rushmore DeNooyer, co-producer of the upcoming History Channel documentary, told the AP. Visible in the map are remains of a deckhouse, pieces of the ship’s bottom, a 60-foot slab of its side, five of its boilers, a lightning rod from a mast and a revolving door.

More findings will be revealed in the documentary, set to air April 15. A senior vice president at the History Channel, Dirk Hoogstra, assured the AP that this is “groundbreaking, jaw-dropping stuff.”

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