Sunken ships have long held the fascination of many researchers, as well as the general public. From long-lost pirate ships to modern-day sinkings like the Titanic, crafts that now reside at the bottom of the sea have been the subjects of romantic written portrayals in addition to the targets of serious exploration. An absence of technology that can resist pressures below the surface has been the main barrier to close study and prevented interested parties from unlocking the mysteries of these sunken vessels.

A team of researchers in Australia, however, have started to use 3D data and mapping technology to investigate ships submerged along the southern coastline of the continent, GISuser reported. The mercurial coast is a hotbed for shipwrecks, with more than 800 boats that failed to navigate high seas, storms and the difficult topography, particularly around Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu and Yorke Peninsulas, awaiting examination on the ocean floor below. ShipShapeSearchers, a nonprofit group that endeavors to discover and protect maritime archeology, is leading the expedition. They’re working with Esri Australia, a locations intelligence service provider, to create 3D construction models of the ocean floor.

Using remote sensing techniques, including sonar, satellite surveys and LiDAR, the researchers are able to combine data into 3D presentations of the terrain below the surface, identifying different components of the topography, including vegetation, rocks and yes, ships, according to Vision Systems Design. The researchers are then able to ‘peel away’ layers of the 3D visualization to reveal new sights.

“The technology also helps archeologists determine the types of materials the ships are made of, as well as their condition and age, making it easier to identify the wreck itself,” said ShipShapeSearchers archeologist Alex Moss, GISuser reported. “This provides an ideal laboratory for us to test our mapping technology and explore which processing and interpretation techniques work best for the detection of wrecks.”