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History and Heritage

Clues On The Surface

Investigating the past with technology of the future

In more than 17,000 ship and aircraft wrecks around the world, important stories are under water, waiting for a chance to be told.

They will not wait forever. Eventually, their voices will fade away as the destructive forces of nature silence them, locking away their secrets forever.

At Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), the Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) is hard at work getting those stories to the surface. Some will be told in museums and various displays around the world. Others will be stored, allowing future generations and technology to find even more stories inside.

For a 19th-century torpedo lost by USS Iowa in December of 1899, the stories are beginning to unfold thanks to traditional research and modern technology. The Howell torpedo was discovered by Navy Marine Mammal program dolphins in May 2013 and has since been in the care of the UAB. Their historical research of actual deck logs and other Navy documents helped them find out which ship it belonged to and when it was lost.

Now, a team from the Advanced Data Acquisition, Prototyping Technology & Virtual Environments (ADAPT.VE) Lab at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Philadelphia is employing advanced laser-scanning technology to find out the rest of the story. Even as the torpedo continues to degrade while they work, the laser is recording important clues about what might have happened to the torpedo and why.

The torpedo has a long preservation process to endure before it can possibly be placed on display for the world to enjoy. The stories, however, do not have to wait to be told. Thanks to NHHC, the story is already being told, with future chapters to come from the clues they find on the surface.