SEATTLE, Washington – The first high-resolution, 3D digital model of a perfectly preserved, 100-year-old steamboat was unveiled today. Using a new sonar scanning system provided by BlueView Technologies and OceanGate, the survey, which would have taken years to complete using traditional underwater archaeology techniques, took only days.
Images of the A.J. Goddard, a famous sternwheeler “ghost shipwreck” from the Klondike Gold Rush, are the first 3D views of the frontier-era steamer that disappeared in a winter storm in October 1901. Only two members of the five-man crew survived. Goddard’s location remained a mystery for 107 years until it was discovered in 2008 by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) at the edge of Lake Laberge, in the subarctic wilderness of Canada’s Yukon.
INA partnered with OceanGate and BlueView Technologies on an expedition to create a 3D survey of the wreck, recently designated as a Yukon Historic Site under the Historic Resources Act. The new BlueView scanning system, BlueView BV5000, allows archaeologists to easily scan underwater areas and complex objects significantly advancing researchers’ capabilities to complete archaeological surveys of complex targets.
“Traditional shipwreck surveys take scientists years to complete because they have to manually measure thousands of data points to accurately document a wreck’s condition,” said James Delgado, president of INA. “The BlueView system is able to quickly scan large areas, capturing millions of individual measurements within minutes.”
This technology has had great success in the oil and gas industry, but this is the first time it has been used for underwater archaeology. Because of its small size, it can be easily deployed on a boat, tripod, Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), or Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). “This new system is a significant technological breakthrough for documenting shipwrecks,” said Lee Thompson, co-founder of BlueView Technologies. “It has great potential for deeper wrecks that previously were only accessible to a few divers or ROVs. Researchers can now map these complex sites in great detail with minimal risk.”
Using the system, the final digital model can be manipulated using laser scanning software applications allowing researchers to make detailed measurements, create cross-sectional views, and even create 3D visualizations and virtual “flights” around and inside the wreck.
“The new scanner gave us a better idea of how the ship was built, its structure and what it was made of,” said project leader Lindsey Thomas of INA and Texas A&M University. “Without the scanner our access to the hull was limited to how far we could put our heads inside. By suspending the BlueView unit upside down inside the hatch, we were able to obtain a view of the ship that we could not have gotten otherwise.”
The expedition team completed 130 dives over eight days and identified and tagged approximately 100 artifacts. Divers removed 28 of the most significant artifacts for future display in a Goddard exhibit at the Yukon Transportation Museum. The recovered artifacts included a number of surprising finds, such as a record player with records, a steam whistle assembly, and a glass bottle containing vanilla. “When we managed to get the steam whistle up that was a special moment,” said INA research associate John Pollack. “This is material you do not usually recover on most wrecks, it’s usually destroyed.”
Another unexpected benefit on the expedition was the use of “citizen scientists,” citizens who volunteered their time or other resources so they could experience the rewards of scientific discovery. An entrepreneur from Seattle and a pilot from St. George, Utah, the citizen scientists were recruited by OceanGate, whose mission is to enable individuals to gain nautical knowledge and experience while giving much-needed support to researchers.
“Our goal is to help fill the void in project funding and access to research technologies for underwater exploration,” said OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein. “We’ve created a unique model that helps advance scientific research while giving more people the opportunity to actively participate in scientific discovery.”
The citizen scientists’ primary contribution was to transport team members and the sonar system to the expedition site, and shuttle personnel and equipment back and forth between the camp and dive site on a small inflatable boat. They also helped the divers with their equipment, and performed a variety of kitchen and camp chores to reduce the team’s workload.
“It was a thrill to be part of a discovery process,” said entrepreneur and citizen scientist Gordon Rock. “Much of the time we were right there on the wreck with the expedition team, listening as the divers discussed how they were going to position the sonar equipment and collect the data. Once the first sonar pictures started showing up on the computer, everyone was ecstatic. Being there to see those initial images was certainly thrilling,” he continued.
Lindsey Thomas was also enthusiastic about the assistance provided by the citizen scientists. “I could never have found enough archaeologists to come on this project with our budget,” she noted. “Not only did the citizen scientists help and do a fantastic job, but they had other skills that I might not have access to if the team were made up of solely archaeologists.”
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