Thursday, September 13, 2012

Marine Archaeologists Develop Seismic Images of USS Hatteras


Marine archaeologists are taking "seismic" or "sonar" images of the USS Hatteras, a a 210-foot long Union ironclad Civil War ship.   The Hatteras rests in 57 feet of water about 20 miles off Galveston. 
Getting pictures of the vessel is difficult because the sand- and silt-filled water near the seafloor limits visibility to no more than 10 feet.  That's were seismic technology comes into play.  By using a variant of the science that helps geoscientists locate oil and gas deposits and monitor earthquakes and volcanoes, scientists can create a 3-D image of the ship.   The sonar technology produces images by analyzing sound waves bouncing off surfaces that are translated into electronic signals and then interpreted by computers to form an image of the object. While the core technology has been around for sometime, this is the first application to scan wreckage.  
The wreckage site was discovered in the early 1970s by a Rice University professor.  The Hatteras wreck is in waters administered by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the ship itself remains the property of the US Navy.

USS Hatteras vs. CSS Alabama
January 11, 1863
According to the US Navy Historical Center, the 1,126-ton USS Hatteras was built in 1861 in Wilmington, DE, as a civilian steamship.  Later that year it was purchased by the Navy, commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and assigned to join the fleet blockading the Florida coast.  The ship had an active tour, in Florida, raiding Cedar Keys and destroying at least seven schooners and facilities before being transferred to Gulf of Mexico operations.

Sinking of USS Hatteras
On January 6, 1863, she joined the fleet of Admiral David Farragut for duties blockading Galveston, TX.  Five days later, she pursued and tracked down a three-masted ship flying the British flag.  The ship was none other than the famous Confederate raider the CSS Alabama.  The Alabama fired on the Hatteras from 25 to 200 yards away.  After a 43-minute battle, the Hatteras was on fire and taking on water.  Commodore Homer Blake surrendered and were taken prisoner on board the Alabama for transport to Jamaica.  Of the 126-man crew, two were killed and are believed to be entombed in the wreck.  It was the only Union warship sunk by a Confederate raider in the Gulf of Mexico.
Plans are being made to post the images online on the 150th anniversary.
Readers may wish to check the following links for more information;

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