During the attack on Pearl Harbor, 1,177 crewmembers perished aboard the USS Arizona, making making it the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in American history.

Badly damaged and unable to be fully salvaged, the USS Arizona has remained at the bottom of Pearl Harbor for more than 70 years, with the remains of approximately 900 officers, sailors, and marines onboard. The USS Arizona Memorial, a floating monument that straddles the sunken hull of the battleship, was built in 1962 to honor those that lost their lives that fateful day.

The last time a survey of this historical site was undertaken was in 1983. How have the ship and the Memorial changed since then?  There are no existing design plans for the Memorial structure, and the only existing record of the ship is a hand drawing.

In 2013, the National Park Service (NPS) decided to undertake the first comprehensive survey of the USS Arizona and Memorial in 30 years. Scheduled to be completed later this year, the survey will provide the public with a more detailed view and understanding of this historic site while contributing to the ship’s ongoing preservation.

Bringing Together Teams, Data

How do you create a highly accurate, 3D digital representation of a fragile piece of history, while minimizing any disturbance to the ship? With extreme care and sensitivity.

For the 2013 survey, the NPS brought together multiple teams, who donated their time and efforts to this ambitious project:

  • National Park Service (Owner)
  • HDR (Project Manager)
  • Autodesk (Underwater Photogrammetry, Autodesk ReCap reality capture software & Autodesk Infraworks civil infrastructure software)
  • Sam Hirota, Inc. (Land Surveying, Terrestrial Laser Scanning)
  • Oceanic Imaging Consultants, Inc. (Multibeam Sidescan SONAR)
  • 3DatDepth (Subsea LiDAR)
  • Shark Marine Technologies, Inc.  (Diver Portable SONAR)
  • United States Coast Guard (Flight Support)
  • US Navy Mobile Diving Salvage Unit One (Dive Support)

A quick glance at the list of partners above reveals how many different reality capture technologies were brought to bear on the survey. In fact, it’s the first ever attempt to integrate Terrestrial Laser Scanning, Multibeam Side Scan SONAR, Subsea LiDAR, Diver Portable & Fixed SONAR, and Photogrammetry into one 3D model.

Autodesk reality computing technology sits right in the middle of this effort through its ability to digest all the different reality capture and measurement data and create beautiful, photorealistic 3D computer models that anyone can view and understand.


Telling an Old Story a New Way

Creating intelligent 3D models brings the USS Arizona to life and provides the public with an opportunity to actually touch a bit of history. It is an opportunity to engage and educate the public about what happened at Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona like never before.

In addition, highly detailed 3D models of a cooking pot and Coke bottle that have sat on the ship’s galley for the past 72 years were created and displayed. Each model featured intricate details, including color and the barnacles now present on the cooking pot. 

The color 3D models of the coke bottle and cooking pot were created by Autodesk, and 3D printed pro-bono by Utah based WhiteClouds.com. Autodesk and NPS hope to create a 3D model of the USS Arizona in its entirety by the end of this year.

The ability of these 3D models to bring history to life can be felt not just by younger generations, but by those who were there that day in 1941.

USS Arizona survivor Don Stratton, 92, one of only nine remaining USS Arizona survivors still alive, was one of the few hundred to make it off the ship.  Stratton was only 19 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  He along with six other crewmembers went hand over hand on a heaving line across the burning deck to safety on the USS Vestal that was moored alongside the USS Arizona that fateful morning. Stratton suffered burns over 70 percent of his body.

When presented with the 3D print of the cooking pot for the first time at the Memorial Day press conference, Stratton said, “That is amazing.  I don’t know anybody in the galley that survived that day.  At the time of the explosion, it was self-preservation. After that, it was extremely hard to return.  Now, when I go back and remember, it’s a little easier.  I think it [3D artifacts] will make an impression on a lot of people, I really do.”

Understanding the Environment

In addition to discovering that the ship is actually in better condition than originally thought, the survey team has discovered that corals have adhered to and are growing on the ship. 

This is a curious development, leading scientists to wonder how corals are surviving in such a hostile environment where there is so much oil in the water. The USS Arizona held approximately 1.5 million gallons of oil, and continues to leak 2-9 quarts each day. Oil leaking from the sunken battleship that is visible on the surface of the water is sometimes referred to as “the tears of the Arizona.”

Since an estimated 500,000 gallons of fuel remain within its hull, detailed documentation of the USS Arizona will not only contribute to the preservation of this historical burial ground and memorial—it will also be a step towards protecting the surrounding marine ecosystem.


Preserving the Past for the Future

To better appreciate the scope of these accomplishments, it’s helpful to compare and contrast the 1983 survey of the USS Arizona with the 2013 survey.

In 1983, the survey team spent 90 days in the field, and three years post processing. The deliverables that came out of that effort were hand drawn models and 2D renderings.

In 2013, the survey team spent 15 days in the field, and three days post processing.  The deliverables this time around are 3D, survey grade (1 centimeter), georeferenced, photorealistic computer models.

Reality Computing is an emerging concept that bridges the physical and digital worlds, and Autodesk sees great potential in supporting the National Park Service and preservationists around the world with reality computing technology to capture, analyze and communicate pieces of our collective history.

Over time, the USS Arizona has become a living monument to our past and remains one of America’s most revered historical sites. With the undertaking of the first comprehensive survey of the USS Arizona and Memorial in 30 years and its resulting 3D models, it will remain so for future generations.