In 1901, the stern-wheeler A. J. Goddard was caught in a storm on Lake Laberge in Canada’s Yukon Territory and sank. It lay lost in those frigid depths until underwater archaeologists located it in 2008.
The Goddard was a significant find—the cold, oxygen-starved environment meant textiles and even paper might be intact, a valuable record of the Klondike Gold Rush. Standard procedure for mapping such a wreck used to involve fiberglass tape and sketches on Mylar, a tedious process fraught with error—highly accurate surveys could take years.
This past June, however, experts mapped the Goddard in hours. They did it with the BlueView BV5000, a football-sized sonar scanner designed for underwater military operations and petroleum exploration. Its rotating head captures images as millions of dots in a “point cloud” that can be assembled into a precise 3-D model.
For the Goddard survey, researchers with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology moved the scanner around the hull and then lowered it through a hatch to map the interior.
In an afternoon, the team created a hi-res digital Goddard, “right down to the mud on the sides,” INA president Jim Delgado says. For underwater archaeologists, he adds, “it’s an exponential leap—from the Wright brothers to the SST.