Ti­tanic de­bris might yield an­swers

Re­searchers put to­gether map of strewn wreck­age

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY CLARKE CANFIELD

SOUTH PORT­LAND, MAINE | Re­searchers have pieced to­gether what’s be­lieved to be the first com­pre­hen­sive map of the en­tire 3-by-5-mile Ti­tanic de­bris field and hope it will pro­vide new clues about what ex­actly hap­pened that night 100 years ago when the su­per­liner hit an ice­berg, plunged to the bot­tom of the North At­lantic and be­came a leg­end.

Marks on the muddy ocean bot­tom sug­gest, for in­stance, that the stern ro­tated like a he­li­copter blade as the ship sank, rather than plung­ing straight down, re­searchers said this week.

An ex­pe­di­tion team used sonar imag­ing and more than 100,000 pho­tos taken from un­der­wa­ter ro­bots to cre­ate the map, which shows where hun­dreds of ob­jects and pieces of the pre­sumed-un­sink­able ves­sel landed af­ter strik­ing an ice­berg, killing more than 1,500 peo­ple.

Ex­plor­ers of the Ti­tanic which sank on its maiden voy­age from Southamp­ton, Eng­land, to New York City have known for more than 25 years where the bow and stern landed af­ter the ves­sel struck an ice­berg. But pre­vi­ous maps of the floor around the wreck­age were in­com­plete, said Parks Stephen­son, a Ti­tanic his­to­rian who con­sulted on the 2010 ex­pe­di­tion. Study­ing the site with old maps was like try­ing to nav­i­gate a dark room with a weak flash­light.

“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,” he said. “Noth­ing like this has ever been done for the Ti­tanic site.”

The map­ping was done in the sum­mer of 2010 dur­ing an ex­pe­di­tion to the Ti­tanic led by RMS Ti­tanic Inc., the le­gal cus­to­dian of the wreck, along with Woods Hole Oceano­graphic In­sti­tu­tion in Fal­mouth, Mass., and the Waitt In­sti­tute of La Jolla, Calif.

They were joined by other groups, as well as the cable His­tory chan­nel. De­tails on the new find­ings at the bot­tom of the ocean are not be­ing re­vealed yet, but the net­work will air them in a two-hour doc­u­men­tary April 15, ex­actly 100 years af­ter the Ti­tanic sank.

The ex­pe­di­tion team ran two in­de­pen­dently self-con­trolled ro­bots known as au­ton­o­mous un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cles along the ocean bot­tom day and night. The tor­pedo-shaped AUVS sur­veyed the site with side-scan sonar, mov­ing at a lit­tle more than 3 miles per hour as they tra­versed back and forth in a grid along the bot­tom, said Paul-henry Nar­ge­o­let, the ex­pe­di­tion’s co-leader with RMS Ti­tanic Inc.

The AUVS also took high-res­o­lu­tion pho­tos 130,000 of them in all of a smaller 2- by 3-mile area where most of the de­bris was con­cen­trated. The pho­tos were stitched to­gether on a com­puter to pro­vide a de­tailed photo mo­saic of the de­bris.

RMS TI­TANIC INC. VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This com­pos­ite im­age, made from sonar and 130,000 pho­tos taken in 2010 by un­manned, un­der­wa­ter ro­bots, shows a small por­tion of the 100-year-old de­bris field sur­round­ing the bow of the Ti­tanic.

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