Italy is taking recourse to underwater surveillance systems in an effort to preserve sub-aquatic archeological sites. In the region of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, efforts are underway to preserve the area’s heritage of shipwrecks in an area where cross-Mediterranean maritime trade has proceeded for millennia.
Experts from the University of Udine have joined with archaeological preservation authorities of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, with funding from Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage along with satellite operator Eutelsat, with technical assistance from Open Sky – Italy’s leading internet provider. The departments of history, mathematics, as well as electrical, mechanical and computer engineering of the university are involved in the project, as well as archaeologists specializing in underwater archaeology.
The sites under study are subject to damage from environmental factors, commercial fishing activity, and pilfering by recreational divers. The project seeks to provide streaming video from underwater cameras that are suspended on a metal grid that are then connected to the surface via cable to independent buoys. Scanned images are then recorded and transmitted via satellite to remote servers. This ensures that the images will be stored in a virtual museum for viewing by the public and researchers, and also to alert authorities to any disturbances to the underwater sites, which include shipwrecks.
The main technical challenge for the project is the need for autonomy for the buoys, as well as the considerable distance between the sites and the coast. These two factors place stringent demands on both the system, from the standpoints of both computers and communications.
The first sea trials involved a shipwreck from the 3rd century B.C., dubbed Grade 2, and one from the 2nd century B.C. called Caorle 1, which is near the Italian city of the same name on the shore of the Adriatic between the Livenza and Lemene rivers. Caorle 1 is located 13 nautical miles from the shore and lies at a depth of approximately 100 feet. The Grade 2 wreck is located seven nautical miles from the coast, at a depth of sixty feet.
A diver and submersible video camera with uplink at the Caorle 1 wreck
Eutelsat satellites, with technical assistance from Open Sky (which has donated satellite bandwith for the project), were used for the first phase of the sea trials. Real-time video was uplinked from the Caorle 1 wreck.
"The sea has always been an involuntary storehouse of human affairs,” said project director Massimo Capulli, who is also a professor of archaeology at the University of Friuli. He explained, according to a September 4 report, “It welcomes the traces of our past, preserves them in its depths and gives them new life. Modern underwater archaeological research has brought these testimonies to our attention, which are found today in many museums. But you cannot always repair or recover these relics of the past. In line with the directives of UNESCO, preserving them in situ is in so many ways to be preferred. This project therefore aims to broaden the audience of users of these treasures, not only those with a submarine, so that now everyone can enjoy this museum that is the sea."
Capulli is the author of a book, Le Navi della Serenissima. La "Galea" Veneziana di Lazise [Venezia 2003], as well as several papers, including: “Putting the pieces together: the laced timbers of Venice Lido III assemblage,” Published in INA Quarterly, 2014, and “Waterlands. The eco-historical landscape of the Stella River,” Published in Skyllis, 2014.
In military applications, video and other underwater surveillance systems are used, for example, to detect enemy divers approaching naval vessels.