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Research Projects

NESTA, SET, English Heritage, NATO/G8, Ministry of Defence, Department for Transport, NOAA c.£450,000 01.2005 - present

Visualising our Maritime Heritage
Visualising our Maritime Heritage
Visualising our Maritime Heritage
Visualising our Maritime Heritage
Visualising our Maritime Heritage

Main project collaborators

Dr Chris Rowland, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Visualisation Director)
Martin Dean, St Andrews University (Managing Director)
Mark Lawrence, Maritime Archaeologist, Sound of Mull Archaeological Project (SOMAP) (Finance and Technical Director)


Dr Chris Rowland (Visualisation Director)
John Anderson (Software Development Manager)


Context and background

Visualising our Maritime Heritage Seven tenths of the earth’s surface is covered in water. Evidence of our maritime heritage can be found in the thousands of historic shipwrecks that lie beneath the oceans on the seabed around our coastline. Unlike land based heritage sites, the majority of these underwater locations are virtually invisible to the public gaze due to their inaccessible nature. In rare cases, e.g. the Mary Rose, the wrecks are recovered and placed in purpose built museums alongside artefacts recovered from them. The enormous cost of archaeological recovery, preservation and exposition restricts this practice. Many of the case study shipwrecks go beyond heritage; they are of environmental significance, either containing unexploded munitions, nuclear materials or large quantities of marine oil. An aesthetic approach to improving the visualisation of the data can help to inform risk assessment for recovery or containment of these hazardous materials.

Aims and objectives

Archaeological Diving Unit Surveys (ADUS) specialise in high-resolution multibeam sonar surveying and visualisation; they have developed a unique system for marine wreck visualization and analysis. Recent developments in sonar technology have provided opportunities for high resolution data to be gathered which can be used to produce accurate 3D images of these shipwreck sites.
Novel aesthetic approaches to visualising data can make submerged maritime heritage more accessible to the general public. Re-tasking 3D animation techniques can improve the viewer’s understanding of complex underwater scenes. Software tools have been developed for the aesthetic rendering of sonar data which enables far clearer and more vivid visualization of the wreck, and the impact it is having in the local marine environment.


DUS have developed WreckSight™ software to help make wrecks more understandable to those responsible for their management or removal. The international salvage industry uses the application to plan the recovery of hazardous wrecks. WreckSight™ also makes selected wrecks more accessible to sport divers. The software can be used as a planning tool or as a way to recreate a dive by inserting a shot line and way points along the track a diver or ROV has taken. In the heritage sector, maritime archaeologists use WreckSight™ to help map the wreck and mark locations where artefacts have been recovered.
ADUS have been commissioned by government departments, English Heritage and other bodies to provide visualizations of shipwrecks such as HMS Royal Oak, and the Stirling Castle, a battleship that sank in 1703.
In June 2007 a Russian frigate, with the aid of a G8-funded international team and NATO unmanned submarine, embarked on a mission to locate Russian nuclear submarine B159 which sank four years earlier with the loss of all ten crew. The international team, which included members of ADUS, aimed to search and identify the condition of the wreck, in particular the condition of the submarine’s two nuclear reactors. This work for the Russian government showed that the submarine, although damaged, is relatively intact and viable for recovery.
ADUS have recently used this unique system to visualise the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which lies a mile beneath the sea in the Gulf of Mexico, after causing the biggest oil spill in US history in April 2010.

Visualising Maritime Heritage - click here to download PDF research description