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Sonar Uncovers Amazing Photograph of Sunken Civil War Ship

The USS Hatteras, sunk 150 years ago, was discovered and photographed recently using 3D sonar

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In 1863, the USS Hatteras lost a fierce fight against the CSS Alabama and sunk, 18 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas. Now, 150 years later, the USS Hatteras has been found, thanks to 3D sonar. New Scientist reports:

NOAA made the scans after local underwater photographer Jesse Cancelmo noticed that recent storms had shifted some of the sediment and sand that covered the wreck. The main image above shows the curved tooth-like outline of the stern on the right. The paddle-wheel shaft stretches from the top to the bottom of the picture, where the remains of the port paddle wheel lie crumpled like the bones of a skeletal hand. More than half of the ship still lies beneath the seabed.

The photographs of the ship are made using mosaics of photographs, to create a 3D image. NOAA writes:

Today, the wreck of the Hatteras is largely intact, resting 57 feet underwater in sand and silt. Recent hurricanes and storms have removed some of the sediment and sand that once encased the vessel like a time capsule. Given shifting sands may once again rebury the Hatteras, the team used a short window of opportunity for a two-day mission last fall to create 3-D photo mosaics of the Hatteras for research, education, and outreach purposes.

“Most shipwreck survey maps are two-dimensional and based on observations made by sight, photographs or by feeling around in murky water while stretching a measuring tape,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “Thanks to the high-resolution sonar, we have a three-dimensional map that not only provides measurements and observations, but the ability for researchers and the public to virtually swim through the wreck’s exposed remains and even look below the surface at structure buried in loose silt.”

And you can even zoom around the wreck in 3D here:

The Naval Historical Center summarizes the USS Hatteras’s career:

USS Hatteras, a 1126-ton iron side-wheel gunboat, was built in 1861 at Wilmington, Delaware, as the civilian steamer Saint Marys. She was purchased by the Navy in September 1861 and commissioned a month later. Hatteras was initially assigned to the blockade of the Florida coast, where, in January 1862, she raided Cedar Keys, destroying facilities and seven schooners. Later in January, after being transferred to the Gulf of Mexico, she engaged CSS Mobile off Berwick, Louisiana. Over the next several months, Hatteras was very active against blockade runners, capturing several steamers and sailing vessels. On 11 January 1863, while off Galveston, Texas, she encountered the Confederate cruiserAlabama, which was masquerading as a British warship. After a short, vigorous action with her more heavily-armed opponent, USS Hatteras was sunk.

The battle that sunk the USS Hatteras. Naval Historical Center

Under the Sunken Military Craft Act, the ship is considered a grave, and no one is allowed to mess with it. Which made the 3D scanning technique perfect—all the images with none of the intrusion.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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