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July 25th, 2013
Shipwreck Search in South Australia Relies on 3D Mapping

More than 800 shipwrecks lie entombed along the state’s coast – particularly beneath the treacherous seas off Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu and Yorke Peninsulas –  victims of raging gales, careless captains and, in some cases, foul play.

Now a not-for-profit group of shipwreck hunters are aiming to uncover these long-forgotten hulks by using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology from partners Esri Australia to create digital 3D reconstructions of the ocean floor.

ShipShapeSearchers archaeologist Alex Moss said the 3D maps have multiple layers that can be ‘peeled back’ to reveal any ships that may lie beneath.

“We start with data sourced from non-archaeological sources – including industry, government and research organisations – in particular those that have been conducted using remote sensing techniques,” Mr Moss said.

“The remote sensing techniques include sonar, satellite surveys and LiDAR – which uses light beams fired from a plane to measure ocean depth and terrain up to 30 metres below the water’s surface.

“GIS technology enables us to combine and process all of this information into a 3D model of the ocean floor that shows in intricate detail the different elements – whether it’s vegetation, rocks or sand – that it is comprised of.

“Researchers can use the technology to ‘fly’ in and out of the virtual model and peel back each of the element layers to ‘bring out’ the wrecks beneath.

“The technology also helps archaeologists determine the types of materials the ships are made of, as well as their condition and age, making it easier to identify the wreck itself.”

The ShipShapeSearchers team are currently testing the technology in a shipwreck graveyard at North Arm, near Port Adelaide.

“We have access to more than 20 hulks of varying construction periods, types and materials, and in different environmental conditions, all on the one site,” Mr Moss said.

“This provides an ideal laboratory for us to test our mapping technology and explore which processing and interpretation techniques work best for the detection of wrecks.

“Once we’ve established this, we hope to demonstrate technology that can be used to search for wrecks right along the Australian coast over the coming years.”

Esri Australia remote sensing and imagery expert Dr Dipak Paudyal said ShipShapeSearchers’ progressive use of 3D and GIS technologies would have ramifications beyond archaeology.

“As an island nation with a strong nautical history, it’s important that researchers, historians and archaeologists use modern technology to gain a clearer view of where we’ve come from,” Mr Paudyal said.

“This approach is now also used on dry land as well, with many of the nation’s emergency services agencies using mapping technologies to virtually remove obstructions caused by disasters to survey the situation underneath and safely take action.

“And by layering new data over old, responders can gain a clear understanding of how an area affected by a natural disaster changes over the duration of a crisis.”

ShipShapeSearchers will be unveiling the findings of their research at Australia’s leading geospatial event, Ozri 2013 – happening from 4-6 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. For registration details visit – esriaustralia.com.au/ozri.

To learn more about the ShipShapeSearchers project visit – shipshapesearchers.org