Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
May 15, 2001
U of G prof helps 'raise' sunken battleship
The battleship USS Arizona, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor and carried 1,000 sailors to their deaths, can be seen again for the first time in six decades, thanks to imaging technology developed by a University of Guelph engineering professor.
Images of the ship that were created by Robert Dony appear in the June issue of National Geographic magazine, which is available on newsstands now. They are part of an extensive feature article about the attack on Pearl Harbor, which propelled the United States into the Second World War and altered the course of the 20th century.
For many, the most tragic event of that fateful Sunday morning was the sinking of the USS Arizona, a battleship that had been lying peacefully at its moorings before Japanese planes dove from the sky. By morning’s end, the Arizona lay at the bottom of the harbour, with more than 1,000 American sailors permanently entombed within its decks. A lasting image from Dec. 7, 1941, is of the Arizona settling to the bottom, smoking and ablaze, her superstructure mangled, twisted and listing unsteadily forward. The images of the ship that Dony created include a clear, detailed picture of the entire forward section of the ship. “No one has ever before seen the Arizona this way,” he said. The main reason is that although the ship sits at a relatively shallow depth, the water is so clouded that visibility is just a few feet. Getting an image of the wreck in either small or large scale was impossible until Dony developed technology to make it possible.
Typically, shipwreck images are grainy and hard to make out, but Dony was asked by a National Geographic explorer to take clearer photos of the ship lying at the bottom of the sea. An expert on video imaging and signal processing, Dony developed a computer-based program that processes thousands of separate images to produce a single high-resolution composite photo. The digital-video-software process that produces a measurably accurate picture is called photogrammetry.
Dony travelled to Hawaii for the project. He said that visibility around the wreck was less than 10 feet due to brisk tides, silt, algae, plankton and oil still leaking from the December 1941 attack. He hd divers from the National Park Service swim slowly in careful rows over the wreck at a distance of six feet, filming the ship with digital video cameras. He then took the images gathered and “knit” them together on his laptop.
“The beauty of the system we developed,” he said, “is that once you’ve put together the images, you can zoom into a closeup of one particular spot on a wreck, down to one-sixteenth of an inch in scale, or pull back to show the entire ship rendered in perfect detail.”
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