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Scientists Explore Sunken WWII Shipwreck in California

Aug 24, 2016 08:00 AM EDT
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Scientists led an underwater expedition to film and photograph the sunken WWII vessel USS Independence.

The exploration of the 623-foot-long WWII shipwreck, which is sitting 2,600 feet under the sea off the coast of Northern California in Half Moon Bay, was featured live in a webcast that ran from Monday afternoon until 2pm in Tuesday at nautiluslive.org.

Scientists dove to the wreckage on Monday onboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus (E/V Nautilus), which is operated by Ocean Exploration Trust, a nonprofit organization founded by oceanographer Robert Ballard. Nautilus broadcasted the expedition live via remotely-operated Hercules submarine.

"It's damaged, but the star, the insignia, is still there on the wing and the 50-caliber guns are still in place," James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and lead scientist for the expedition, said in a report by San Jose Mercury News.

"Independence is in much better condition than I had expected. It looks as it did in the 1946 photographs. It is a frozen moment in time."

The USS Independence, an aircraft carrier used during the World War II, was used during combat at Wake Island, Okinawa and at Leyte Gulf from 1943 to 1945. A year later, it became one of the 90 vessels assembled as target fleets for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. The ship survived multiple blasts and was taken to San Francisco for decontamination studies. After studies, the damaged ship was deliberately sunk near San Francisco in 1951.

"It was scuttled in a weapons test to determine the efficiency of two new types of torpedo warhead," Delgado said in an interview with Live Science.

In 2015, NOAA studied the wreckage remotely using acoustic mapping technology and found that the ship was sitting upright and still in good condition, carrying a single plane on its hangar bay.

"When we do these missions we are obtaining hard scientific results, but also these shipwrecks speak to you in a powerful way when you encounter them," Delgado said in a statement. "They cease to be images in books or in newsreels."

During the expedition, researchers have found giant sea sponges thriving around old military gear. The ship's radioactivity, however, does not pose any threat to ocean life, as the radioactivity decreases by half every seven years. Nevertheless, scientists will be taking samples of sediments and small creatures from the ship for testing.

Just recently, a team of Nautilus researchers spotted an odd-looking bug-eyed purple squid 2,950 feet deep off the coast of California, which was also broadcast live from Nautilus' Hercules submarine.

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