Rapid, Quantitative Assessment of Submerged Cultural Resource Degradation Using Repeat Video Surveys and Structure from Motion

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Monitoring, managing and preserving submerged cultural resources (SCR) such as shipwrecks can involve time consuming detailed physical surveys, expensive side-scan sonar surveys, the study of photomosaics and even photogrammetric analysis. In some cases, surveys of SCR have produced 3D models, though these models have not typically been used to document patterns of site degradation over time. In this study, we report a novel approach for quantifying degradation and changes to SCR that relies on diver-acquired video surveys, generation of 3D models from data acquired at different points in time using structure from motion, and differencing of these models. We focus our study on the shipwreck S.S. Wisconsin, which is located roughly 10.2 km southeast of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in Lake Michigan. We created two digital elevation models of the shipwreck using surveys performed during the summers of 2006 and 2015 and differenced these models to map spatial changes within the wreck. Using orthomosaics and difference map data, we identified a change in degradation patterns. Degradation was anecdotally believed to be caused by inward collapse, but maps indicated a pattern of outward collapse of the hull structure, which has resulted in large scale shifting of material in the central upper deck. In addition, comparison of the orthomosaics with the difference map clearly shows movement of objects, degradation of smaller pieces and in some locations, an increase in colonization of mussels.

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Journal of Maritime Archaeology