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Undersea revival


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POSTED: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

For more than 900 sailors, the hull of the 608-foot battleship USS Arizona sitting on the muddy bottom of Pearl Harbor just off Ford Island serves as their final resting place.

But National Park Service and Navy divers have discovered that the 31,400-ton battleship has returned to life.

Brett Seymour of the Park Service's Submerged Resources Center in Denver said yesterday that “;a lot of the natural habitat”; has returned.

“;When the National Park Service first mapped the ship in the mid-'80s, there was no hard coral growth,”; Seymour said.

“;Now there is soft and hard coral growing on and around the battleship,”; said Seymour, who started mapping and filming the battleship in 1977. “;We see more sea horses and sea turtles.”;

Seymour had just completed a 90-minute dive at the stern section—part of a 10-day project to capture underwater imagery using 3-D, high-definition technology. He explained that when viewed on special monitors and using special glasses, the pictures will be three-dimensional and very detailed.

The videotape will be edited to an eight- to 10-minute film that will be shown in the Arizona Memorial's new center to help more than 1.5 million visitors each year to experience the underwater world of the sunken battleship. Educational videos will also be produced.

Local National Park Service divers continuously monitor the underwater environment surrounding the battleship, with the last extensive underwater mapping done in 2005. Officials then used sophisticated laser surveying equipment and traditional methods of measuring and mapping points on the Arizona's sunken decks.

In 2000, divers with high-powered nail guns fired 43 stainless steel nails into the ship's deck. Archaeologists and surveyors measured the longitude, latitude and elevation of each nail with GPS receivers.

The $1.5 million underwater camera system will later be mounted on an 8-pound remotely operated vehicle that will film the interior of the battleship.

Scott Pawlowski, chief of the Park Service's cultural and resources division, said the system also will be used to videotape a Japanese midget submarine sunk during the 1941 attack three to four miles off Pearl Harbor.

Planning for the Arizona underwater mapping project started three years ago. Filming began Feb. 9 and will be completed by Monday.

Logistical and dive support are being provided by the Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, led by Chief Petty Officer Robert Galentine. The team of five Navy divers spends nearly 12 hours a day working off its 35-foot boat, which serves as floating video studio.

“;It's a big honor to do this and to help out the Arizona Memorial,”; said Galentine, who has been in the Navy for 18 years. “;This is Navy history.”;

During one portion of yesterday's filming, cameraman Matt Russell, 33 feet below the surface, could be seen on a 19-inch video monitor explaining that he was situated before “;a large circular formation,”; which was a barrier to protect gun turret 4. “;After the attack, the Navy salvaged the gun and used it as a shore battery,”; he said.

In his commentary, Russell also noted that gun turret 4 is where 32 Arizona survivors have chosen to be buried after the war. On Dec. 7, 1941, all but 554 of the Arizona's 1,731 men went down with their vessel.

National Park Service officials say the new technology helps them to better understand the structural integrity of the 93-year-old battleship and whether it is any danger to the environment.

“;It is in far better shape than can be imagined based on scientific evidence,”; Seymour said.

“;There is now a vibrant coral colony,”; Russell noted in another taping segment as the camera panned to healthy coral.

Event to show hi-def ship footage

National Park Service officials will discuss current and past underwater research projects that have been conducted on the sunken battleship USS Arizona at 6 p.m. Saturday at the USS Arizona Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor.

Seating in the 152-seat visitor center will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Three-dimensional, high-definition video taken of the interior and exterior of the 180-foot battleship sunk during the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet on Dec. 7, 1941, will be shown and discussed. Also shown will be underwater video of the USS Utah.