Software sheds light on battleship graveyard
Ghostly images become vivid history
Thanks to a University of Guelph professor, a huge battleship sunk in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor is resurfacing in stark detail with the help of computer technology.
The wreck of the USS Arizona still lies on the ocean floor at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, but Prof. Robert Dony designed software to capture a unique, clear overhead shot of the bow of the ship.
The image, based on digital camera work by divers, was published as part of a Pearl Harbor package in the June issue of National Geographic Magazine, a welcomed reward for any scientist.
Asked Thursday if that was a thrill, Dony replied, "Absolutely, knowing it's going all over the world and the calibre of the publication."
The National Geographic feature on Pearl Harbor coincides with the release of a new movie based on the attack. Peal Harbor, the movie, opens May 25.
The photographic project began in 1992 when Dony, an expert in imaging processes, got a phone call from amateur underwater archaeologist Dan Nelson, and was asked to develop an underwater computer imagery system.
Dony was busy at the time with a PhD and a young family, but eventually he began to design it. In 2000, Nelson got Dony in touch with National Geographic photographer Emory Kristof, which led to an assignment to capture a clear image of the Arizona's bow lying in murky harbor water.
Dony never intended to make any money from the project.
"I said I would work for free. If it means a trip to the South Pacific so I can look at shipwrecks, I would be happy."
The Arizona is one of 21 ships sunk or damaged during the attack on Peal Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, by waves of Japanese aircraft. More than 2,000 Americans died in the 90-minute attack that propelled the United States into the Second World War.
The Arizona lies in shallow water, though the bow is deepest and, because of the murky water, is hard to see from the surface. In fact, it wasn't until the 1980s that a dive team discovered a forward gun turret, believed to have been removed long ago with the rest of the ship's guns.
A bridge-like memorial has been placed over the Arizona and it attracts more than one million people a year.
Dony and Nelson went to Hawaii in September 2000 to get the project started. A team of National Park Service divers began step one, slowly passing back and forth over the bow with digital cameras.
Dony tested his software and returned home after a weekend in Hawaii to await more footage.
Dony's software is able to account for the unsteady camera work inherent in underwater photography and bring together many views into a single, high-resolution image.
Six videotapes were sent to Dony from the U.S. National Parks Service over two months. He uploaded the images to his computer and used the software he wrote to create his astonishingly crisp, detailed overview of the bow. Details as small as 1/16th of an inch appear.
The shot, completed by the end of December, also provides a good sense of the violent destruction of the Arizona; an explosion shredded much of the bow.
"No one has ever seen the Arizona this way," said Dony, who is looking into commercial applications for his software and may also use it on wrecks in Lake Ontario.
New Look - Software written by University of Guelph Prof. Robert Dony resulted in a crisp overview image of a battleship sunk in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. The picture of the bow of the USS Arizona appears in June's National Geographic Magazine.
Uniform subject(s): Computer and electronics industries; Terrorism and assassinations
Length: Medium, 483 words
© 2001 Guelph Mercury. All rights reserved.
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