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Hi-tech explorers 'drain the ocean' to solve the mystery of the HMAS Sydney shipwreck

Kate Schneider, August 7, 2018 7:10PM news.com.au

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The wreck of the HMAS Sydney revealed by visually draining the ocean. Picture: supplied media_cameraThe wreck of the HMAS Sydney revealed by visually draining the ocean. Picture: supplied

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Filmmakers  have used the latest technology to visually* drain the ocean off the coast of Western Australia to reveal one of Australia’s most famous shipwrecks.

The HMAS Sydney sank on November 9, 1941 after a battle with German ship Kormoran. All 645 aboard the Sydney died but 317 of the Kormoran’s crew were rescued. How the Sydney was beaten by the Kormoran has remained one of World War II’s biggest mysteries.

But now we can see the shipwreck up close in a groundbreaking* National Geographic series Drain The Oceans.

The wreck of the HMAS Sydney still lies at the bottom of the ocean, but new filmmaking techniques allow us to see it clearly. Picture: supplied media_cameraThe wreck of the HMAS Sydney still lies at the bottom of the ocean, but new filmmaking techniques allow us to see it clearly. Picture: supplied

A team of experts combined many different types of technology and the latest scientific information, as well as expert opinions and digital recreations*, to analyse mysteries of the ocean such as the Sydney.

Andrew Ogilvie, CEO and executive producer at Electric Pictures, which co-produced the 10-part series, said the footage* is like nothing ever seen before.

“For the first time we are able to see what these places look like on a grand scale and with clarity* that is simply not possible using traditional underwater photography,” Mr Ogilvie said.

Drain The Oceans uses a range of data … with sophisticated computer-generated graphics to create highly accurate three-dimensional models of the bottom of our oceans, lakes and rivers.

“This process allows the filmmakers to recreate natural wonders, shipwrecks, ancient ruins and other human artefacts that can be found on the sea floor — revealing them in unprecedented* detail, as if they were on dry land.”

This is a trailer for the episode of the series that explores the Mediterranean Sea

Much controversy surrounded the sinking of the Sydney. Many wondered how a purpose-built warship such as the Sydney could be defeated by the modified merchant* vessel the Kormoran, but without being able to see the ships, there was no way to answer anyone’s questions.

With the locations of the wrecks unconfirmed for many years, David Mearns, one of the world’s best wreck hunters, began studying the battle in 2001. By 2008, he joined forces with the Australian Government to track them down, and the National Geographic series follows the moment he found both ships.

The Kormoran captain had left vital* clues of where the ship went down, helping Mr Mearns track it. After hunting for 12 days, he spotted the shadow of the vessel 200km off the coast. Four days later, he located the Sydney.

“It came up on the screen suddenly,” he said. “It was just total elation* that we found it.”

At a depth of over 2km, it was too far to dive so they sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) down to explore.

As there’s only so much detail that an underwater ROV camera can provide, the team used the information they had collected with computer-generated imagery to “drain” the Indian Ocean, making the ship that was considered the pride of Australia visible for the first time in more than 70 years.

A still image from the series Drain the Oceans, which uses advanced technology so we can see the HMAS Sydney. Picture: supplied media_cameraA still image from the series Drain the Oceans, which uses advanced technology so we can see the HMAS Sydney. Picture: supplied

What they discovered was a ship pockmarked* by battle damage, evidence of a fight close-up. They were able to recreate the battle between the two lost ships.

The filmmakers also used these techniques to explore other shipwrecks, lost wonders of ancient Egypt and explain underwater earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and how the impact of a huge meteor in the Gulf of Mexico could have wiped out the dinosaurs.

Drain The Oceans begins today at 8.30pm on Foxtel.

EXTRA READING

Quest to map world’s oceans by 2030

Titanic find was part of a top-secret mission

“Holy grail” of shipwrecks found

GLOSSARY

  • visually: that you can see
  • groundbreaking: never done before
  • recreations: remake things
  • footage: film
  • clarity: how clear it is
  • unprecedented: never done before
  • merchant: commercial rather than navy
  • vital: essential
  • elation: great joy
  • pockmarked: scarred

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What date did the Sydney sink?
  2. What was the name of the German ship?
  3. Why couldn’t people understand that the Sydney was beaten by the Kormoran?
  4. How far off the coast was it found and how deep?
  5. What other things did the filmmakers explore?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY
1. Ocean Shipwrecks
When you read an article that contains a lot of technical information, it is often useful to use the 5 Ws to summarise the main points. See if you can analyse the article using the 5 Ws to help your understanding of what you’ve just read. Write a couple of sentences for each W.

  • Who —
  • What —
  • When —
  • Where —
  • Why —

2. Extension
How did the HMAS Sydney sink? Why do you think this new technology could be groundbreaking as suggested in the article?

Time: Allow 20 minutes
Curriculum Links: English, History

VCOP ACTIVITY
With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you could explore the bottom of the ocean, what would you look for?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your answer.

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