New Case Study: telling the story of Australia’s largest naval loss using digital 3D reconstructions

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Some of the reconstructed images of the Sydney-Kormoran shipwrecks being viewed in the Curtin University HIVE

An ambitious project to create digital 3D reconstructions of shipwrecks for virtual underwater heritage museum experiences relies on the AARNet network for the transfer of huge volumes of data from the research lab to supercomputer.

The Sydney-Kormoran Project, a Curtin University and Western Australian Museum collaboration, is using the latest imaging technology, research networking, supercomputing and advanced visualisation techniques to tell the story of two of Australia’s most significant shipwrecks – the HMAS Sydney (II) and the German raider HSK Kormoran.

The shipwrecks met their fate at the bottom of the Indian Ocean on 19 November 1941 after a short but fierce battle ending with the loss of all 645 crew of the Australian vessel. How and why Sydney, a state-of-the-art warship, was defeated by Kormoran, a modified merchant vessel, has long been the subject of much speculation and controversy.

Despite the historical significance of these vessels – whose resting place 200km off the coast of Western Australia was only discovered in 2008 – they have been largely inaccessible to the public due to their isolated location 2,500 meters below the ocean’s surface.

Now, thanks to detailed 3D imaging surveys carried out by Dr Andrew Woods, Senior Research Fellow at Curtin University, and his team, haunting images have emerged that reveal new insights about the last moments of the ships, including a previously-undocumented 15-centimetre shell hole through Sydney’s bridge.

“The Sydney-Kormoran Project is the first research project in Australia to have undertaken such an ambitious underwater survey and has set a new bar for this type of work,” said Woods.

The expedition to the ocean floor involved four years of preparation, 63 crew members and two remotely operated vehicles fitted with 14 digital cameras. Four dedicated 1Gbps links to 2,500 meters were used to transfer images from the cameras to the researchers on board the project’s service ship for quality assurance in realtime.

Over 500,000 images and 300 hours of high definition video footage were collected and recorded on hard drives. After preprocessing at Curtin University, the data was seamlessly transferred over the AARNet high capacity network to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre for processing.

“We can’t do our research without AARNet,” said Woods. “We’ve got to move data around and we rely on the AARNet network to do that for us.”

Read the full case study

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