Archaeologists Create 3D Models of Shipwrecks

A team of marine archaeologists in Michigan is using a new imaging technology to create 3-D models of historical shipwrecks at the bottom of Lake Huron.

The technique, called “photogrammetry,” works by feeding series of two dimensional photos into a software program that translates them into three dimensional models that are perfectly to scale. The team in Michigan, led by diver Joe Hoyt, has been collecting photos of the Huron wrecks for several years now. But this is the first time they have had the technology to monitor the environment with the kind of depth and precision that the 3-D models allow.

The new technique offers more realistic representations of the wrecks and a greater degree of accuracy in measurements, enabling the researchers to assess even minute changes in the ships over time. The 3-D modeling technology is also a huge plus for marine archaeologists considering how time-consuming and expensive the dives can be at deepwater sites like these. Photogrammetry models are quick, easy, and cheap to produce compared to the 2-D photo series, in addition to the enhanced detail they provide.

Exploring Storybook Shipwrecks

Hoyt and the rest of the team recently visited eight deep dive sites in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The sanctuary measures 4,300 square miles and is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Michigan. The team spent several days on the excursion aboard a Great Lakes-based environmental research vessel known as the Storm.

One of the wrecks being studied was the Defiance, a “110-foot schooner that sunk in 1854 after colliding with the John J. Audubon.” The Defiance is one of Lake Huron’s earliest wrecks and sits nearly 200 feet below the surface of the water. Hoyt says the Defiance was marvelously well-preserved, one of several “storybook” shipwrecks that the 3-D models could also make accessible to non-divers.

The team is already envisioning interactive touch-screen exhibits and 3-D printers that spit out the shipwreck of your choosing, complete with historical annotations and commentary. Soon, Americans could be exploring the deepest depths of their maritime heritage without ever donning a wetsuit.

Shipwrecks are scary. Musio is cute: