How engineering modelling techniques are helping to identify wrecks

Jon Lawson

Ships lost at sea can stay hidden for decades, but engineering techniques are helping historians to uncover their secrets. Here is one of the latest discoveries, WWII Submarine USS S-35 (SS-140) lying offshore in Hawaiian waters. 

It was found by Tiburon Subsea CEO Tim Taylor as part of his ‘Lost 52 Project’ which aims to document WW2-era submarines. It is his 7th such discovery. He explained, “Currently seeing the underwater world in large swaths is done using sound or sonar. Human vision uses the visible light spectrum as the stimulus input and is extremely limited in range. Expanding this range underwater has presented unique barriers the least of which is the public, based on documentary graphics, believes it already exists. This developing 4D technology is changing the way we can now explore the oceans. It is democratising and empowering modern underwater exploration.” In addition to the modelling, the explorers used autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). With these techniques the team spend less time on site but gain more accurate data. 

The vessel was launched in 1919 and commissioned in 1922. It was active until March of 1945 and was torpedoed as a target ship on April 4th, 1946. It’s sister ship, the USS S-28 sank with 49 sailors lost. It was found nearby in 2017, the accuracy of the scan showed the bow plane cover cowlings which enabled accurate identification. 

Among his other interesting finds, Taylor discovered the USS Stickleback earlier in the year, also in Hawaiian waters. It was commissioned on March 29, 1945 and after a varied career was lost in 1958 after a training exercise went wrong. Fortunately no one was hurt.