'Virtually Raising the Titanic': New 3-D images

By Steve Szkotak -  Associated Press

Scientists showed some never-before-seen images of the Titanic in a Virginia courtroom Thursday, unveiling dramatic three-dimensional views of the rusting hulk and the ghostly images of the sea floor where the ship sank almost a century ago.

The Titanic struck ice while making its maiden voyage on April 12, 1912, about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada. More than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew perished as the liner plunged into the deep.

The images taken from a remote-controlled submersible vehicle were shown to a judge Thursday amid an ongoing salvage claim involving the world's most famous shipwreck.

Scientists who took part in a 2010 expedition to the North Atlantic wreck site said the images are the most extensive and highest quality ever taken of the Titanic.

The expedition also fully mapped the 3-by-5-mile wreck site, which is located 2 1/2 miles below the ocean's surface.

The experts said the entire debris field has now been documented for the first time.

The new images will ultimately be assembled for public viewing, scientists said, and to help oceanographers and archaeologists explain the ship's violent descent to the ocean bottom.

It is also intended to provide answers on the state of the wreck, which scientists say is showing increasing signs of deterioration.

The findings were presented in a federal courtroom in Norfolk where a salvage claim is still being decided 26 years after the Titanic was discovered by oceanographer Robert Ballard.

The most striking images involved the 3-D tour of the Titanic's stern, which lies 2,000 feet from the bow.

Attorneys and court visitors donned 3-D glasses as a camera in a remote-controlled submersible vehicle skimmed over the stern, seemingly transporting viewers through scenes of jagged rusticles sprouting from deck, a length of chain, the captain's bathtub, and wooden elements that scientists had previously believed had disappeared in the harsh, deep ocean environment.

The images were gathered last year using submersibles that were either tethered to a research vessel or programed to skim the ocean floor — "mowing the lawn," in the words of one scientist.

The scientists said previous sonar and optical images were random and akin to snapshots, while the expedition strived to record and map every inch of the wreck and its resting place using the latest recording technologies.

Individual images are stitched together in a mosaic process to create large-scale, almost panoramic views of the wreck.

"We have an image of everything. That's what's important," said William N. Lange of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. "This has never been done before in the deep sea."

The cameras did not probe the interior of the wreck.

The 2010 expedition, which included many veterans of past Titanic expeditions, was organized by RMS Titanic Inc.

The company has exclusive rights to salvage the Titanic, and has gathered nearly 6,000 objects from the once-opulent cruise ship. They are valued in excess of $110 million.

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