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Exploring Underwater Artifacts Using Modern Geospatial Solutions

  • Tucker Fullmer, TCarta's Geospatial Product Specialist, wrote this month's blog looking at how exciting advances in geospatial technology can be used in underwater archaeology

    Historical research shows that between 1625 and 1951 an estimated 2,000 shipwrecks occurred on the outer continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands more occured nearshore within the same timeframe. Shipwrecks act as a window into the past, preserved in place and hidden beneath the surface of the ocean waiting to tell their stories. Historical records detail archaeologically significant underwater sites including ancient Native American settlements exposed during periods of lower sea level, shipwrecks from colonial era exploration vessels, and battleships lost in recent wars.

    Leveraging modern geospatial data and software enables us to visualize the context of these sites in several ways. Geospatial data provided by NOAA’s office of Coast Surveys Automated Wreck and Obstruction Information System (AWOIS) database contains records of these wrecks. By utilizing this cutting edge data, we are able not only to see known points of sunken ships in higher resolution, but the physical characteristics of the seafloor itself. Below is a depiction of known shipwreck locations imposed on high resolution bathymetry provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

    Exploring Underwater Artifacts

    Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico, symbolized as fuschia points

    This high resolution bathymetry data comes from the amalgamation of over 100 3D seismic surveys provided by various data providers and geophysical acquisition companies. The resolution of this new data ranges from 10 to 50 times better than existing publicly available bathymetry. BOEM’s initiative serves in part to aid in protecting archaeologically significant sites such as these from potentially disruptive or negative impacts caused by oil and gas exploration.

    Exploring Underwater Artifacts

    BOEM 10 meter resolution bathymetry

    As data are collected and made publicly available, we begin to learn more about our planet’s hidden structures and ecosystems, as well as our history. Though humans have surveyed celestial bodies beyond our own planet, only about 5% of the Earth’s oceans have been mapped. Of that percentage, an even smaller portion is of a resolution comparable to that shown above.

    TCarta provides geospatial data on a world-wide scale and we get exited about data like this that supports humans in their drive to answer questions or uncover mysteries. TCarta combines publicly available data such as these into easily accessible and usable global bathymetry products. In addition, TCarta creates a variety of new data by utilizing satellite imagery and survey technology. This curated dataset allows for diverse insights and applications relating to the ocean’s topography.