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Geologists apply laser focus to stricken Concordia

posted 1 Feb 2012, 08:15 by Mpelembe   [ updated 1 Feb 2012, 08:16 ]

Geologists studying the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship are using sophisticated geological equipment to monitor its movement. The data collected is crucial to naval engineers trying to predict the vessel's likely shifts of position in the days and weeks to come.

Geologists monitoring the movement of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia are doing so with the help of technology normally used for volcanoes and landslides.
The ship, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, struck a rock off Giglio on January 13, after its captain steered to within 150 metres of the tiny Italian island. Seventeen bodies have been recovered from the wreck, while a further 15 people remain missing.

The ship lies half-submerged just metres from shore on a rock shelf, where it is being monitored for movement by geologists from the University of Florence who are providing information to Italian authorities to help them make decisions related to the rescue and salvage operation.

Professor Nicola Casagli said that from a scientific point of view, monitoring the stability of a ship on a submerged slope was a challenging problem.

"We decided to use the same technology, used for active volcanoes, to monitor everything. Movements from hundreds of vibrations per second to one millimetre per year or less. And so we are monitoring everything, like in active volcanoes for complex landslides. And we use the same approach of complex geological problems," he said on Tuesday (January 31).

The geologists are using eight different technologies in the monitoring process. One of the most sophisticated is a type of radar provided by the European Commission.

"This instrument provides us with the map of the formation. One map per second. So it's very sophisticated technology used for volcano monitoring in complex environment. Then we have a laser scanner, and so we are producing digital elevation models, so a mathematical model of the ship every day," said Casagli.

Other technologies include a micro-seismic network which measures seismic shocks from the movement of the ship in real time, and radar satellites from the Italian Space Agency which are used to assess the slow movement of the ship over the long term.

On Tuesday the Italian authorities called off the search for bodies in the submerged part of the ship because movement of the ship had made those areas unsafe. This is the kind of decision that is made after a scientific committee studies the data provided by the geologists.

But the geologists say there is not yet enough data to make predictions as to what to expect from the ship in the future.

"We don't know if and when we are going to have further accelerations in the movement of the ship," said another of the geologists in the team, Riccardo Fanti.

"We pass on all our data to naval engineers who examine it and they will try to use it to build predictive models, both of ship movements and structural deforming that the hull may suffer due to the fact that the ship is lying in an unnatural position. So in the next few days we are hopeful that we will be able to better understand what the possible future scenarios will be," he added.

On Sunday (January 29), Italian authorities announced that measuring instruments placed on board the 290 metre long ship showed some 3.5 centimetres of movement in six hours, compared with a normal movement of one or two millimetres.

But officials have said it is stable and faces little immediate risk of sliding from its resting place in some 20 metres of water into deeper waters.