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Research Technical Report

A PDF version of this report is available here:

Solymar 2020 (1MB)

3D Digital Modeling of Maritime Heritage Resources: Are Small ROVs up to the Task?

Solymar, R. (December 2020)

CSUMB Professional Science Master's professional internship report, 16pp.


My primary goal of this project was to evaluate the feasibility of creating useful 3D models of submerged maritime heritage resources, rocky reefs, or other undersea structures and habitats from video obtained by a small (15 kg), affordable ($5,000 US) ROV operating at or below the depth limits of recreational scuba.

I conducted this work in collaboration with Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS or sanctuary), which is responsible for management of, and public outreach regarding, a variety of natural and cultural resources, including a large number of shipwrecks and other maritime heritage resources (MHRs), within MBNMS boundaries. The sanctuary is a potential user of the methods described in this report.

I conducted this research at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and in the field as part of Dr. Steve Moore’s research lab group, which is called the Ecosystem Electronics Lab, or “EEL.” My team of undergraduate Ecosystem Electronics Lab-mates, Maggie Seida and Ethan Switzer, and I were able to assist the sanctuary through this project by: (1) evaluating whether surveys by comparatively small, low-cost ROVs would be sufficient to create useful 3D models of MHRs via Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry and (2) evaluating the potential usefulness of these models for (a) documenting the physical condition of each site, (b) characterizing the biological communities associated with each site, and (c) creating interactive public exhibits, such as virtual-reality walk-throughs of the 3D models.

More specifically, my objectives were to: evaluate the feasibility of using a small ROV (BlueROV2 by Blue Robotics, Torrance, CA) and a GoPro Hero 4 camera to collect video for building SfM models of 1-3 MHRs, and assess the level of detail reliably documented in those models with respect to the potential applications (a-c) listed above.

We successfully created a 3D model of two sunken WWII-era amphibious tracked vehicles located one atop the other off of Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA using video imagery collected from a small ROV. These vehicles are an MHR known to many scuba divers as the “Mating Amtracks” dive site. The model successfully captured the three-dimensional shape, approximate size, and footprint of the wreck. When the model was optimized for high resolution we were able to confidently identify many sessile macroinvertebrates associating with it (in some cases to the species level).


  • CSUMB Spring Showcase (class presentation YouTube video), available here
  • 3D Model of Mating Amtraks (Sketchfab), available here.
Reviewed: April 11, 2024
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