TORONTO (Reuters) - Scientists were set to launch on Wednesday what they called an effort to "virtually raise" the Titanic by using 3D techniques to map the entire wreckage site of the sunken transatlantic liner for the first time.
Using cutting-edge robots, acoustic imaging, sonar technologies and high resolution optical, video and 3D imaging, a team of experts from various organizations will reconstruct a comprehensive and detailed picture of the remains of the ship and of the wreckage site on the floor of the North Atlantic, much of it never seen before.
"About 40 percent we think -- maybe 50 percent -- of the Titanic site has never been looked at," said co-expedition leader Dave Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the world's largest private nonprofit oceanographic institution, based in Massachusetts.
"Everything to this point has been pretty much exploration, or adventure," Gallo said, noting that this expedition will be the first to work archeologically on the deep-water site.
"We want to go into this area and understand where everything is and how it got there. It's going to be like the CSI of the underwater world," he added.
The RMS Titanic was the world's biggest passenger liner when it left Southampton, England, for New York on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Four days into the trip, the ship hit an iceberg and sank, taking more than 1,500 passengers with it. Its whereabouts remained a mystery until 1985, when it was discovered several hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland.
Two teams, each consisting of about 30 experts, will conduct research, some of it as esoteric as investigating whether microorganisms collected at the site are distant relatives of those that went down with Titanic.
The website www.expeditiontitanic.com will provide ongoing updates and the History Channel is expected to broadcast a documentary on the expedition, Gallo said.
Experts say that while raising the Titanic physically may be technically feasible today, the prohibitive cost and fragile nature of the ship make it extremely inadvisable. Some also consider it disturbing a grave site.
"Very quickly, the ship is deteriorating more and more," said expedition leader Paul-Henry Nargeolet, director of underwater research for RMS Titanic Inc, the company spearheading the project.
RMS Titanic Inc is a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc and is the only company permitted to recover objects from the wreck. The company was granted salvor-in-possession rights to the Titanic by a U.S. Federal Court in 1994.
Nargeolet, who led five previous expeditions to the site, expects much of the deck to collapse within the next 10 to 15 years: "On the stern...between the engine the room...everything is collapsed already, including the hull itself."
Editing by Peter Galloway