New “photogrammetry” technology could change how we learn about shipwrecks

TWO HARBORS, Minn. – Lake Superior is home to more than 300 shipwrecks. Each one is a reminder of the lives lost in our efforts toward progress.

If you’ve been to Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore, you’ve likely heard of the wreck of the wreck of the Madeira. It crashed into the north shore during a brutal storm in 1905. During that storm, 28 other ships were damaged or destroyed and 36 people were killed.

Shortly after, U.S. Congress allocated $75,000 to build the Split Rock Lighthouse. Today, the site is one of Minnesota’s most photographed places.

Now, a group is using a brand new picture-taking process known as photogrammetry to construct a comprehensive view of the Madeira’s wreckage, a process historians say is revolutionary.

“They’ve been doing this amazing work going down there, and finding these different pieces of that wreck. Through the photogrammetry that they’re doing now, coming up with these 3D models, it’s absolutely insane detail that they’re getting,” Split Rock site manager Hayes Scriven said.

For Andrew Goodman, every dive serves a purpose. While he lives in the Twin Cities, he spends his weekends mostly underwater all throughout the state, and lately on the North Shore.

This summer, Goodman and the Great Lake Shipwreck Preservation society began doing this process on the wreck of the Madeira.

“I would have to say this was one of the bigger and more challenging, just from the sheer size of it. Most shipwrecks I shoot are usually between 3,000 to 5,000 images. So far what I’ve gathered is just under 20,000 images,” he said. “When you go down, you circle pretty much every square inch of the wreck to try and get a good model. You don’t exactly get to see what you’re shooting sometimes, depending on visibility and what you can see. When you come back up and the photos actually get processed, it creates a 3D model. Then you can actually see what it is you saw.”

Since the GLSPS started surveying the wreck, they’ve discovered the original boiler and fresh water tank, thought for more than a century to be long lost.

It’s an understanding the historical society says they’ll integrate into part of Split Rock’s exhibits this spring, giving visitors for years to come a look at the wreck like they’ve never seen.

“For us, it’s just a better understanding of our past, and really understanding where we’re at now,” he said. “That’s what I really love about history. Everybody thinks that we know the past; we really don’t. We’re really just scraping the top of this to really understand what it was like back then.”

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