For nearly three quarters of a century, the USS Arizona has rested practically untouched in the waters of Pearl Harbor, acting as both the final resting place of and enduring tribute to the 1100 marines and sailors that lost their lives aboard it. Today, the National Park Service and Autodesk unveiled the results of an intensive modern survey that will soon allow anyone in the world to virtually explore the battleship in all her former glory.
Building off its previous success digitizing obscure and rarely displayed artifacts from the Smithsonian's massive collection, Autodesk has teamed up with the NPS to construct a near perfect digital recreation of the USS Arizona war memorial.
Since the Arizona is, first and foremost, an active military cemetery, both the Navy and the NPS (upon taking stewardship of the site in 1980) have been careful to avoid disturbing it. So, in the 70-plus years since it sank, the Arizona has only been surveyed twice—once during the initial wartime salvage operation and again in 1983. Those surveys were crude by today's standards—the '83 effort involved having dive teams draw 3-foot-square sections of the site, by hand, to create a composite map of the site—but were considered state-of-the-art at the time.
However, there has been renewed concern over the battleship's condition in recent years, given what salt water does to steel. "The park service was pretty sure that things were changing down there," Pete Kelsey, Strategic Projects Executive at Autodesk, told Gizmodo during a recent phone interview. "So the idea was to take a really close look at the ship and the memorial."
Over the course of ten days between last November and this past April, a team of divers equipped with the latest digital survey tools—from laser scanners to subsea LiDAR—poured over the wreckage, constructing a detailed map of the site. "We did that using several kinds of sonar: multibeam scan sonar mounted to the [survey] vessel, a diver-portable multibeam unit, a stationary sonar." Kelsey explained. "On the laser side we had a traditional terrestrial laser scanner to do the memorial—the actual building—inside and out. We actually found some folks in Colorado that make a laser scanner that works underwater [designed for deepwater oil well inspection]" which was employed as well.
"Plus, we had a bunch of historical data from the park service—GPS and some beautiful hand drawn maps which were the result of the survey in the 1980s," he continued.
The massive data set collected from this survey is now being utilized to create an interactive 3D model of the Arizona that will not only help the NPS monitor and preserve the site without disturbing it but also assist the agency in educating the public about the events of December 7, 1941 and their historical significance.
"We have an existing model of the Arizona based on the 1983 drawings," NPS spokesman Daniel Martinez, the NPS's Chief Historian, told Gizmodo. "But if we had a model that people could interact with, people all over the world would be able to get a sense of the size shape and scale of the ship."
Autodesk and the NPS have just released the results of the survey during a Memorial Day ceremony at Pearl Harbor. The model should be completed and made available on the Internet later this year. As an educational outreach and teaching tool, the models could prove invaluable. "Once you have those models, you're really only limited by your imagination."
Sit down Michael Bay, nobody wants to see Pearl Harbor 2.