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Expedition uses small underwater drone to discover 100-year-old shipwreck

3D model of a 100-year-old shipwreck off the western coast of Australia. Credit: Daniel Adams, Curtin University HIVE.

A small underwater drone called Hydrus has located the wreckage of a 100-year-old coal hulk in the deep waters off the coast of western Australia. Based on the data the drone captured, scientists were able to use photogrammetry to virtually “rebuild” the 210-foot ship into a 3D model (above). You can explore an interactive 3D rendering of the wreckage here.

The use of robotic submersibles to locate and explore historic shipwrecks is well established. For instance, researchers relied on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to study the wreckage of the HMS Terror, Captain Sir John S. Franklin‘s doomed Arctic expedition to cross the Northwest Passage in 1846. In 2007, a pair of brothers (printers based in Norfolk) discovered the wreck of the Gloucester, which ran aground on a sandbank off the coast of Norfolk in 1682 and sank within the hour. Among the passengers was James Stuart, Duke of York and future King James II of England, who escaped in a small boat just before the ship sank.

In 2022, the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic announced the discovery of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s ship Endurance. In 1915, Shackleton and his crew were stranded for months on the Antarctic ice after the ship was crushed by pack ice and sank into the freezing depths of the Weddell Sea. The wreckage was found nearly 107 years later, 3,008 meters down, roughly four miles (6.4 km) south of the ship’s last recorded position. The wreck was in pristine condition partly because of the lack of wood-eating microbes in those waters. In fact, the lettering “ENDURANCE” was clearly visible in shots of the stern.

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