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Underwater equipment launched in Titanic search

By Kerry Sanders, NBC News Correspondent

ABOARD THE JEAN CHARCOT – The wind and the seas have not been cooperating with a group of scientists’ effort to document the debris field where the Titanic sank in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Strong 30 mile-per-hour winds delayed efforts to launch high-tech autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) late Wednesday afternoon.

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And although losing time is always a concern , the teams here waited out the weather and around 4 a.m., the first AUV, nicknamed “Mary Ann” splashed into the North Atlantic.

The AUV, owned by the Waitt Institute, and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is a technical marvel.


Shaped like a torpedo, it’s stuffed with directional and sensing equipment – and as its name suggests, once launched, it works on its own.

The teams like to say it’s “mowing the yard.” That’s because “Mary Ann” is moving at around 4 miles per hour, about 40 yards above the seabed. She’ll cover three miles, and then turn around and return, just as if you were mowing the yard. Her pattern is East-West.

Another AUV nicknamed “Ginger” will be deployed Thursday during daylight hours to “mow the yard” in a North-South pattern.

“Ginger and Mary Ann” are names that give the research teams a chuckle. Clearly, sticking with the Gilligan’s Island theme, it’s fair to say the scientific team members here are the “Professors.”

Billionaire Ted Waitt, of Gateway computer fame, owns the AUV’s at his Waitt Institute. The technology was initially developed at Woods Hole.

Kerry Sanders/NBC News

The "Mary Ann" autonomous underwater vehicle before it was launched to document the Titanic debris.

Billionaire Ted Waitt, of Gateway computer fame, owns the AUV’s at his Waitt Institute. The technology was initially developed at Woods Hole.

As “Mary Ann” moves along the wreck of the Titanic, she not only snaps photos from a camera positioned in the belly near her tail, but from the sides, a side-scan sonar is pulsing, creating a relief map about 400 yards on both sides.

All this data will be collected with the AUV’s surface. It will take some heavy computer crunching, but we should get the first full relief map of the bottom here. And those high resolution pictures will be pieced together to create a mosaic map of the entire Titanic wreck site.

You can follow updates from the crew at facebook.com/rmstitanicinc

See Kerry's other blogs about his journey to the wreckage of the Titanic:

Keeping an eye on the weather enroute to Titanic wreckage
Diving down to document Titanic debris