Now It's Titanic in 3d

Article excerpt

A deep-sea expedition will explore the world's most famous wreck site - so you can do the same. David Usborne reports

Prepare to navigate the ghostly decks, paddle by the broken portholes and dive the darkened staterooms of the Titanic, no experience or special equipment required, though a laptop would surely help.

The "virtual raising" of the liner that remains a symbol of engineering hubris and the frailty of human life - whichever class you travel in - nearly 100 years after it sank in the northern Atlantic is among the main goals of the latest international research mission to the Titanic wreckage site that leaves St John's, Newfoundland, this weekend. Also on the mission's to-do list: determine how quickly the remains of the once mighty liner are deteriorating in pressure that is 400 times what we know on the Earth's surface.

Most tantalising, however, may be the plans to construct an electronic replica of the wreckage that lies two-and-a-half miles under the sea, strewn over a two-by-three mile debris field. Over the full 20 days of the expedition, due to set sail on Sunday, the latest imaging equipment, digital cameras and sonar technologies, will send data to computers aboard the research ship above.

While the main purpose of the mapping effort is archaeological, it will also allow scientists to lift the veil from the world's most famous ocean cemetery and give all of us the chance to explore its every corner - including its iconic bow, separated at the time of its sinking from its stern - albeit by clicking a mouse. The plan is eventually to post the 3D model on the internet.

"The optical imaging platform is going to give us detailed three- dimensional data which has not been done before," James Delgado, president of the Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology and a co-leader of the mission told The Independent. "This will be the first time that someone has looked at, mapped, plotted and brought back to the surface the sense of the entire Titanic site."

The site, first discovered by oceanographer Robert Ballard in 1985, has been visited multiple times. It is the grave not just of the ship but also the 1,522 souls who perished when an iceberg punctured the ship's hull in the early hours of 15 April 1912. Previous missions have focused either on retrieving thousands of artefacts, from chinaware to articles of the doomed passengers' attire, or on the simple filming of its ruptured hull, most notably by Hollywood director James Cameron. Seen by some as plundering for commercial gain, those expeditions - the last was in 2004 - have not always sat well with the scientific community.

The private company bankrolling this visit to the wreck, Atlanta- based RMS Titanic, has exclusive salvage rights to the ship.

This time it has striven to devise a trip that involves and comes with the approval of the main centres of oceanographic exploration. While one of their tasks will be to identify all the remaining artefacts, including thousands that are now hidden by sediment, nothing will be physically disturbed or brought to the surface, they say. …