"Unseen Titanic" in NatGeo magazine: first ever complete views of wreck

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COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Sonar mosaic developed by Remus Operations Group (WHOI) and Waitt Institute. Visible for the first time through sonar imaging, the remains of the ship and its contents sprawl across a thousand acres of gently sloping seafloor. Combined with optical mosaics of individual artifacts, this map of the main wreck area will help experts explore, manage and protect the Titanic as a long-term archaeological site.

See that little thing on the left side? It's a photo of the Titanic.

The April 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine features the first ever complete views of the legendary wreck, made from thousands of high-resolution images, in its current state as it rests on the seafloor.

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The wreck sleeps in darkness, a puzzlement of corroded steel strewn across a thousand acres of the North Atlantic seabed. Fungi feed on it. Weird colorless life-forms, unfazed by the crushing pressure, prowl its jagged ramparts. From time to time, beginning with the discovery of the wreck in 1985 by Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel, a robot or a manned submersible has swept over Titanic’s gloomy facets, pinged a sonar beam in its direction, taken some images—and left.

In recent years explorers like James Cameron and Paul-Henry Nargeolet have brought back increasingly vivid pictures of the wreck. Yet we’ve mainly glimpsed the site as though through a keyhole, our view limited by the dreck suspended in the water and the ambit of a submersible’s lights. Never have we been able to grasp the relationships between all the disparate pieces of wreckage. Never have we taken the full measure of what’s down there.

Until now. In a tricked-out trailer on a back lot of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), William Lange stands over a blown-up sonar survey map of the Titanic site—a meticulously stitched-together mosaic that has taken months to construct. At first look the ghostly image resembles the surface of the moon, with innumerable striations in the seabed, as well as craters caused by boulders dropped over millennia from melting icebergs.

On closer inspection, though, the site appears to be littered with man-made detritus—a Jackson Pollock-like scattering of lines and spheres, scraps and shards. Lange turns to his computer and points to a portion of the map that has been brought to life by layering optical data onto the sonar image. He zooms in, and in, and in again. Now we can see the Titanic’s bow in gritty clarity, a gaping black hole where its forward funnel once sprouted, an ejected hatch cover resting in the mud a few hundred feet to the north. The image is rich in detail: In one frame we can even make out a white crab clawing at a railing.

Here, in the sweep of a computer mouse, is the entire wreck of the Titanic—every bollard, every davit, every boiler. What was once a largely indecipherable mess has become a high-resolution crash scene photograph, with clear patterns emerging from the murk. “Now we know where everything is,” Lange says. “After a hundred years, the lights are finally on.”

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COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Modeling by Stefan Fichtel. Ethereal views of Titanic's bow (modeled) offer a comprehensiveness of detail never seen before.

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COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Single-ended boiler Five 57-ton boilers rolled out of boiler room 1 like giant marbles when the hull split in two. The smallest on board, they were used to heat and light the ship when in port.
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COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Aft grand staircase dome Decorated like the forward grand staircase dome featured in the movie Titanic, the aft grand staircase led down to the deluxe a la carte restaurant, allowing patrons to arrive in style.
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COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Davit pile Titanic's lifeboats were hoisted overboard by davits, or small cranes. Most were ranked off the deck by flailing funnel cables. These two were entangled by ropes left dangling after a boat was launched.


  1. What was in the three blocks of left-justified text that were photoshopped out of the sonar mosaic?

    1. Are you joking? There’d be no cable television industry if it weren’t for that thing.

      1. I thought WWII and ancient Egypt were responsible for the existence of most cable channels?

  2. The NG cover is a nicely sanitised view of things. The ship breaking in two with its stern high out of the water. All of the hundreds of people still onboard strangely omitted.

  3. I had a childhood obsession with the Titanic. My first real in-depth taste of the material happened when my parents bought me a computer game; “Titanic: Adventure Out of Time”. The game itself was terrifying – you always knew the ship was going to sink. And you were on it, trying to solve mysteries. Just thinking about the atmosphere gives me shivers. 

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