Titanic: Rediscovering the Past


The Titanic rests in dock before setting off on its maiden journey on April 10, 1912 ~ Photograph by: RMS Titanic Inc., Photo Handout

On September 1, 1985, Titanic was discovered resting on the ocean floor. Twenty-five years after her discovery, RMS Titanic, Inc., in partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Waitt Institute, embarked on what was arguably the most technologically advanced scientific expedition to Titanic ever organized. RMS Titanic brought together a team of leading experts in various oceanographic, scientific and nautical archaeological fields. Using the latest advances in technology, the expedition team conducted a full survey of the wreck site capturing Titanic in 2D and 3D video, creating a first ever archeological site map.

Provided by the Waitt Institute, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) enabled the expedition team to create the first ever comprehensive and multi-dimensional map of the Titanic wreck site. The AUVs, with their suite of onboard sensors provided new and unique views of the famous ship and revealed secrets about her past, present, and future. AUVs were one of the most important pieces of equipment to be used in Expedition Titanic. The most famous sections of Titanic, the bow and stern, were be documented in 3D using Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that acquire digital data bringing portions of the Titanic to life. There is still much to be discovered and recorded on and below the seafloor.

Ian Kellett Imagery

Waitt Institute Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), one of the most important pieces of equipment to be used in Expedition Titanic.

History Channel:  First Map of Entire Titanic Wreck Site Sheds New Light on Disaster

As the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking approaches, a team of scientists, engineers and imaging experts have joined forces to answer one of the most haunting questions surrounding the legendary disaster: Just how did the “unsinkable” ship break apart and plunge into the icy waters of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912? Two years ago, HISTORY took part alongside the world’s top underwater experts in the most recent expedition to the wreck site. The undertaking yielded unprecedented new discoveries and the first comprehensive map of Titanic’s watery grave, helping specialists solve the century-old puzzle of what went wrong—and determine who or what was responsible. A HISTORY special entitled “Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved,” set to premiere on April 15 at 8 p.m. ET, will document the mission, capture the high-tech mapmaking process, unveil astonishing pieces of never-before-seen wreckage and present the expedition’s unexpected findings. Will the case of the world’s most famous maritime catastrophe finally be closed?


When Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, its stern and bow sections separated. The two pieces came to rest roughly 2,000 feet apart from one another on the ocean floor, 2.3 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic.

Discovered off the coast of Newfoundland in 1985, Titanic’s wreckage has been the subject of much fascination and debate for over a quarter of a century. But even after 25 years, nearly half of the wreck site remained completely unexplored. That changed after the most recent expedition in 2010, when experts armed with sonar technology and high-resolution cameras mapped the debris field in its entirety, capturing 15 square miles of ocean floor littered with artifacts both large and small. Previous surveys had only comprised 60 percent of the area, leaving out significant pieces of the doomed ship and limiting conclusions about Titanic’s sinking to theories, conjecture and land-based studies.

The first to visit Titanic in five years, the 2010 expedition brought together a number of prominent underwater organizations that had never partnered before, including RMS Titanic, Inc., the wreck’s legal custodian and curator. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Advanced Imaging & Visualization Laboratory, a world leader in underwater imaging, developed special 3-D and 2-D cameras for the mission that delivered high-quality footage of extreme clarity. The Waitt Institute for Discovery, meanwhile, supplied self-controlled robots known as AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), capable of independently surveying the site with high-resolution side-scan sonar. These devices worked in tandem with an ROV (remote operated vehicle) provided by Phoenix International, a marine services contractor.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University also contributed to the expedition. Titanic technical experts Parks Stephenson and Bill Sauder, marine artist Ken Marschall and accident investigator Jim Chiles served as consultants on behalf of HISTORY.

Together, the expedition’s participants generated a map that was not only more complete but also more precise than earlier attempts. “Over the course of time, there have been dozens of expeditions to Titanic, but notwithstanding all of the expertise and all of the technological advances, no one has even tried to accomplish creating a comprehensive site survey map of this wreck site,” said Chris Davino, president of RMS Titanic, Inc. “Previous expeditions have gone down in manned submersibles or photo sleds to cover an area of the wreck site,” Stephenson explained. “They would only cover a portion of the wreck site since they could only stay down for so long.” When experts fused together these disparate slices back on the surface, key information was lost—including the exact locations of artifacts and fragments.


Officer's quarters of the Titanic

The AUVs, which had never before been used on a shipwreck site, traveled the entire search area and returned with high-resolution views that were aggregated into a sonar map. The second step of the process involved sending out an ROV fitted with cameras to debris-rich sites pinpointed by the AUVs. “The sonar map is the baseline for the entire analysis,” Stephenson said. “It basically shows us the truth of where all of the debris landed, and then we used that as a guide to go through all of the raw footage. This gave us eyeball resolution on all those pieces, including pieces we’ve never seen before.” David Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole, described the footage captured by the ROV: “The images are staggering. There you are on the bottom of the ocean, transported to the sea floor. It’s mindboggling; even veterans who have been to Titanic numerous times are slack-jawed.”

The team believes its cutting-edge approach represents a paradigm shift in underwater archaeology. “Speaking as an archeologist, I think it’s extremely exciting,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “This technology and these AUVs are as much a game changer for this kind of work on the bottom as going from a landline to a Blackberry.” Davino said it filled a longstanding void in research on the illustrious wreck. “So much of what we’re doing really hasn’t been done before,” he noted. “The map itself, obviously, is a first-time-ever product. People have been clamoring for this on Titanic for literally decades.”

In addition to offering a detailed look at critical elements of the wreckage—including the dual surfaces of the hull’s double bottom, a focus of a 2006 HISTORY special on Titanic—the mapping project revealed new and telling pieces experts knew little or nothing about. For instance, a pile of unidentified rubble, which Stephenson and other HISTORY analysts dubbed the “deckhouse debris,” turned out to encompass the base of Titanic’s third funnel and surrounding decks. “This gave us our first indication of how the ship actually broke apart,” Stephenson said of the piece, which he’d glimpsed in outtakes from the 2006 special. “It’s important not only to identify what things were but also to establish a context for them.”


The anchors on Titanic appear to almost be touching the ocean floor, due to the fact that the bow section is buried 60 feet in sediment. The portside anchor, shown here in 1987, is covered with rusticles.

By taking into account the locations of the deckhouse debris, the double bottom and newly discovered pieces on the sonar map, investigators recreate the ship’s final moments—in particular its deterioration and descent to the sea floor—in “Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved.” “You really begin to understand how violently the ship tore itself apart when it went down and landed all over this enormous footprint on the bottom of the ocean,” said David Alberg, sanctuary superintendent for NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Filmmaker Rushmore DeNooyer, a producer of the HISTORY special, likened the undertaking to a forensic analysis of a crime or disaster scene—only in this case, 100 years after the tragedy took place. “If the National Transportation Safety Board looks at an airliner that crashes or if NASA looks at the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, they look at where the pieces are and how they are arranged and oriented on the ground,” he said. “That’s basically like the map.”

In keeping with this theme, “Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved” features a segment in which computer simulations enact the sinking in reverse, bring pieces of Titanic’s wreckage back to the surface and reassemble the ship in a “virtual hangar.” The aim is to determine how and why the ship’s structure failed when it split apart, as well as where exactly the break occurred. “Because of the comprehensive mapping from the 2010 expedition, we were able for the first time to reconstruct that broken middle area of the ship,” said Stephenson.


New Sonar Image of Bow (September 2010)

Among other hypotheses about Titanic’s sinking, the new analysis challenges the theory that Titanic didn’t break from the top down, as depicted in popular movies, but rather from the bottom up. It also investigates the widely held assumption that Titanic, famously touted as “unsinkable,” suffered from a fatal engineering flaw. A number of potential culprits have come under fire over the years, from the steel that encased the ship to the rivets that held it together. Did a fundamental weakness lurk beneath the grandeur of Titanic, as so many have suggested? How state-of-the-art was the liner for its time? What was the role of human error in Titanic’s demise, and who was to blame? “Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved” will explore these and other issues as experts work to put the mythic ship to rest once and for all.


Titanic: Deconstructed – Video
Titanic: Coroner’s Report – Video
Titanic: Interactive

2010 Titanic Mapping Expedition

Meet the team of leading archaeologists, oceanographers and scientists. They did what no one has ever attempted before: virtually raising the Titanic, preserving the legacy of the Ship for all time.

Official Press Release:

Atlanta, GA, July 27, 2010 RMS Titanic, Inc. (the Salvor-In-Possession of RMS Titanic and its wreck site) in partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Waitt Institute will conduct a ground- breaking expedition to Titanic 25 years after its discovery, to do what no one has ever attempted before: take innovative measures to virtually raise Titanic, preserving the legacy of the Ship for all time. NBC News and NBC’s Peacock Productions will be the exclusive broadcast partner.

In what is arguably the most technologically advanced scientific expedition to Titanic ever organized, RMS Titanic, Inc. has brought together a team of leading archaeologists, oceanographers and scientists including The Institute of Nautical Archaeology, The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries Program, and The National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center to execute this historic “mission of firsts.”


New Photos from 2010 Expedition ~ Cutting-edge and 3D technology helped to produce this picture of the Titanic Bow from the starboard side -- the clearest to date. Photo: Premier Exehibitions, Inc.

Launching from St. John’s, Newfoundland on Wednesday, August 18, 2010, this 20-plus day expedition will employ revolutionary acoustic imaging, sonar technologies and high resolution optical, video and 3-D imaging to provide the first comprehensive view of the entire wreck site with unprecedented accuracy and clarity. Through this suite of sophisticated robots, sonars and cameras, leading experts will chart the boundaries of the wreck site, map the physical position of the Ship and its artifacts on the ocean floor, and create a blueprint that will inform the wreck site’s ongoing maintenance. Together, this data will work to paint a complete picture of Titanic that only a few have been able to witness first-hand.

Titanic enthusiasts will also experience the journey’s excitement and explore the wreck site in real time, with ongoing video feeds and photo postings, and interaction with key crew members through Facebook (www.facebook.com/rmstitanicinc), Twitter (@RMS_Titanic_Inc) and by visiting http://www.expeditiontitanic.com/ (launches on August 3rd).

“The significance and scope of this mission, the team we’ve assembled to carry it out, and the breakthrough technologies being deployed will give people the opportunity to experience Titanic like never before,” said Chris Davino, president of RMS Titanic, Inc. “RMS Titanic, Inc. has a singular purpose: to faithfully and respectfully preserve the memory of Titanic and of all who sailed with her. The goals and objectives of this expedition are fully aligned with that purpose.”


During their 1996 Expedition, RMS Titanic, Inc. captured this stunning image of the bow illuminated with the help of four Edison light towers.

“As the first scientific expedition of this magnitude since Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, working with French colleagues from IFREMER, discovered the Titanic wreck site 25 years ago, this dive provides the perfect opportunity to utilize the exciting, new technologies we’ve been developing,” said Susan Avery, the president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a leading voice in the oceanographic community. “This journey is going to give us important perspectives into the decomposition of the Ship and its effect on the ocean and the seabed.”

“NBC News is thrilled to be at the forefront of this expedition and we look forward to capturing all the work and cutting edge science involved in the retelling of this remarkable story,” said Sharon Scott, Executive Vice President of NBC News’ Peacock Productions.

Leading the expedition is P.H. Nargeolet, director of Underwater Research for RMS Titanic, Inc. and a widely acknowledged authority of the site. A veteran leader of five previous journeys to the wreck, Nargeolet has completed 30 Titanic dives, supervising the recovery of some 5,500 artifacts along the way. “Never before have we had the scientific and technological means to discover so much on an expedition to Titanic,” said Nargeolet. “I’m energized and honored to be leading this all-star team of experts on a fascinating journey.”


David Gallo speaks with NPR on Expedition Titanic. Click to Listen.

Co-leading the expedition is David Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Gallo actively promotes deep-sea exploration and is moved by the unprecedented collaboration between private, non-profit, and government entities to make this expedition a success. “There is a tremendous amount of technology and talent being focused on preserving this important icon of world history, the clear beneficiary will be the public-at-large,” said Gallo.

In virtually raising Titanic through three-dimensional modeling for the first time, this eighth expedition to Titanic by RMS Titanic, Inc. will mark numerous other firsts:

It is the first time this deep water wreck site will be transformed into an archaeological site with all scientific data available for review and study, including all of the factors influencing the wreck’s deterioration. This “road map” for the wreck site has critical implications for Titanic’s future.

Microorganisms collected at the site and evaluated through advanced technology may turn out to be distant relatives of the original microorganisms that went down with Titanic, which will unlock a wealth of new understanding and information about biodeterioration.

The use of high definition and 3D (3DHD) video will produce the clearest images yet of the wreck and its surroundings.

The mission will gather critical information to develop new standards in underwater archaeology for maritime heritage site management, especially in the deep sea.

Assembled by RMS Titanic, Inc. this is the first time that a team of leading authorities has come together on a mission to Titanic, each united in the quest to model and map Titanic for future generations and to work for the site’s long term preservation.

Located 2.5 miles below the ocean surface, Titanic came to rest in a three-square-mile field of debris. This summer, a “dream team” of oceanographic experts, technical innovators and marine archaeologists have joined together in cooperation to achieve the mission’s ambitious goals.

“The Institute of Nautical Archaeology pioneered the scientific study and excavation of shipwrecks through the work of Dr. George Bass fifty years ago,” said James P. Delgado, president and CEO of Institute of Nautical Archaeology and the expedition’s principal archaeologist leading the effort to write the archaeological report and site plan after the mission. “Since then we havebeen involved in cutting edge work to refine the practice of archaeology beneath the water. We’re pleased to be invited to join this mission, working with leading researchers at Woods Hole, our government colleagues, and with RMS Titanic, Inc. to move in new directions for this site, and for science. This is a major step forward for this wreck, for understanding and working with deepwater shipwrecks, and represents all of us working for a common goal in the public interest.”

Additional organizations include: Droycon Bioconcepts– pioneers in the biological corrosion of shipwrecks, as well as scientific analysis of deep ocean flora; Nautilus Marine Group International – the premiere provider of underwater services, spanning condition assessment, navigational charting, and archaeology; and Kongsberg Mesotech Ltd. – the Canadian leader in the design and manufacture of underwater acoustic equipment, specializing in high-resolution sonar systems.

About RMS Titanic, Inc. – a wholly owned subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions, Inc

RMS Titanic, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions, Inc. (NASDAQ: PRXI), is the only company permitted by law to recover objects from the wreck of Titanic. The Company was granted Salvor-in-Possession rights to the wreck of Titanic by a United States federal court in 1994 and has conducted seven research and recovery expeditions to Titanic recovering more than 5,500 artifacts. Premier Exhibitions, Inc. located in Atlanta, GA is a leading provider of museum quality exhibitions throughout the world. Premier is a recognized leader in developing and displaying unique exhibitions for education and entertainment including “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”, “BODIES…The Exhibition” and “Dialog in the Dark.” More information about Premier Exhibitions, Inc. is available at the Company’s web site www.prxi.com.

About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is the world’s largest private, nonprofit, marine research and engineering, and higher education organization. Its mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, the Institution is organized into five scientific departments, interdisciplinary research institutes, and a marine policy center. The Institution conducts a joint graduate education program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

About the Waitt Institute

The Waitt Institute is a non-profit research organization based in La Jolla, California. The Institute serves as an exploration catalyst, enabling scientific pioneers to transform the ways in which discoveries are made. Founded in 2005 by Ted Waitt, the Institute seeks to advance human understanding of the past and secure the promise of a better future through exploration and discovery. The WaittInstitute owns and operates two REMUS 6000 Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, and through the CATALYST Program serves as a leader in deep ocean exploration. With support from the Waitt Foundation, the Institute is committed to the scientific study and protection of marine environments around the world.

About the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is our nation’s lead agency for the scientific research of the oceans and plays an important role in the conservation and management of ocean resources, including maritime heritage. The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) serves as trustee for the nation’s system of marine protected areas and is charged with conserving our nation’s marine resources including both natural and cultural. The office of National Marine Sanctuaries has over 35 years of experience managing underwater cultural resources beginning with the establishment of the USS Monitor shipwreck as the first National Marine Sanctuary in 1975. Through its Maritime Heritage Program, the ONMS is focused on preserving historical, cultural and archaeological resources. Under the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986, NOAA is a trustee for the public’s interest in Titanic, including its preservation for present and future generations.

About the Institute of Nautical Archaeology

The Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) is a global leader in the field of underwater exploration and discovery. Based out of Texas A&M University and Bodrum, Turkey, since 1973, it has sponsored more than 160 excavations and surveys around the world, from the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to the Yukon River. INA’s work includes some of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the past century, from the world’s oldest excavated shipwreck, dating from the time of Tutankhamen, to 13th century sunken ships from KhubilaiKhan’s failed invasion of Japan and Byzantine ships buried in the ancient harbor of Istanbul. In the quest to uncover humanity’s collective past from one of the world’s most demanding environments, INA has pioneered technologies and fostered excellence in all aspects of nautical archaeology, from excavation and conservation through to preservation, analysis and publication. www.inadiscover.com

About the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center

The United States National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center is the standing underwater archeology team for our nation’s lead preservation agency. The team provides direct support to National Parks and partners responsible for the stewardship, public appreciation, access, understanding, and preservation of underwater cultural resources world-wide. Since its inception in 1980, the Submerged Resources Center has focused on innovative science-based site documentation techniques and interdisciplinary, minimum impact, archeologicalprocedures to understand and preserve our shared history that lies underwater. www.nps.gov/submerged.

About Peacock Productions
Peacock Productions is an award-winning, nonfiction production company that combines the editorial expertise, technical resources and seasoned production talent of NBC News to offer a wide-range of programming to broadcast, cable and digital entities with worldwide reach (www.peacockproductions.tv).


Expedition Titanic
RMS Titanic, Inc.

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