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Amazing 3-D sonar map brings the USS Hatteras back to life

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has released a new 3-D state of the art sonar map that reveals new details of the USS Hatteras, a sunken Civil War-era warship. The Hatteras, an iron-hulled steamship the U.S. Navy converted into a gunboat, was sunk during a battle with the CSS Alabama.

 According to the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Hatteras rests in 58 feet of water approximately 20 miles off Galveston, Texas. The BOEM notes that her 210-foot long iron hull is completely buried under about three feet of sand. The BOEM adds that the wreck of the Hatteras is an important part of the story of the Civil War on the Texas coast, as the defense of which is thought to be one of the greatest military feats of the Confederacy.

NOAA says that recent hurricanes have removed some of the sediment and sand that once buried the Civil War-era warship. Concerned that shifting sands could rebury the Hatteras in the near future, researchers launched a two-day mission to develop 3-D photo mosaics of the Hatteras.

While most shipwreck survey maps are 2-D, high-tech resolution sonar produced a fascinating 3-D map that offered measurements and observations as well as the opportunity for researchers to examine parts of the ship buried in the sand. 

James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, says that the 3-D map revealed previously unknown details like the survival of most of one paddlewheel.

The 3-D map also showed damage to the engine room machinery and Hatteras’ paddlewheel shaft. Delgado points out that the engine room spaces were a hazardous place during battle. Cannon fire cut steam lines and filled the spaces with hot steam. In the Hatteras’ engine room, two brave sailors lost their lives.

The Hatteras was part of the 1863 West Gulf Blockading Squadron led by Union Rear Admiral David Farragut. His squadron played a key role in the US Navy’s efforts to block the passage of goods, supplies and arms to and from the Confederacy on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

According to researchers, the USS Hatteras is located in federal waters administered by the BOEM and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. However, the Hatteras itself is administered by the Navy and protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act as a war grave.