An A-list of maritime scientists is scheduled to set sail from Newfoundland Monday on an unprecedented mission to "virtually" raise the world's most fabled shipwreck.
The Titanic has been the object of dozens of expeditions: Picked at for artifacts, filmed for a Hollywood blockbuster, visited by curiosity-seeking tourists. But the team of oceanographers and archeologists departing from St. John's Harbour will be on a scientific expedition to create a comprehensive map of the wreck.
"As anyone who watches CSI knows, science begins with measuring," said James Delgado, a Vancouverite who is principal investigator on the month-long mission. "We'll get a comprehensive map showing the Titanic as it is today. This is a pure science mission."
Expedition Titanic, originally scheduled to leave port Sunday night, was delayed 24 hours to allow for last-minute checks on its cutting-edge equipment.
Debris from the luxury liner, which sank nearly 100 years ago, is spread over a sprawling underwater site measuring about three-by-five kilometres. The mission will use underwater robots to take three-dimensional measurements and construct a view of the wreck.
"It would be as if you went to the side of the freeway in the aftermath of a car wreck, and everything is spread out," Mr. Delgado, a maritime archeologist, said on Sunday from the bridge of the Jean Charcot. "Imagine then that after nearly 100 years, it's still there, untouched."
Much of the shipwreck represents uncharted terrain: About 40 per cent of the site remains unvisited and unmapped, according to Mr. Delgado, former head of the Vancouver Maritime Museum and now president of the Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology.
"People have popped into different places here and there, but it's never been tied together. Nearly half the site is unknown," he said.
The multimillion-dollar expedition will also assess the extent of the wreck's deterioration. The Titanic has been decaying, its remains eaten away by tiny underwater organisms.
Views differ about the extent of the deterioration, said Chris Davino, president of RMS Titanic Inc., in an interview from St. John's. Some people believe it's collapsing; others think it will survive for many years to come.
Meanwhile, the mission is also helping breach a rift in the differing visions for the Titanic. Since the wreck was discovered on the floor of the North Atlantic 25 years ago, views of its status have diverged. Some see its remains as a sanctuary that should remain untouched. The target of some of the criticism has been the RMS Titanic, which has removed more than 5,000 Titanic artifacts.
Mr. Davino, whose company holds exclusive salvage rights to the ship's artifacts, acknowledged that the debate has been raging for years, and sees this mission as a means to bridge the divide.
"It was important for me to bring everyone from the other side over, so we can work together and come up with a consensus plan on how this shipwreck should be preserved," he said.
The team includes RMS Titanic Inc. along with respected organizations like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Mapping the wreck will help inform future decisions on its long-range management. And the public will be able to follow the mission with live feeds from the ship, and eventually have access to 3-D virtual visits.
"We're talking about what a few years ago would have been the realm of science fiction," Mr. Delgado said.
Mr. Davino said Sunday night's delay will allow for further checks on the vessel.
"This is the most advanced deep-sea equipment anywhere – so there's always some risk that everything's not coming together," he said.