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Gauging the Structural Integrity of the USS Arizona

By: Dr. Katie Bojakowski, Chief of Cultural and Natural Resources, NPS and Scott Pawlowski, Curator, NPS
Photo by: Petty Officer 1st Class, Arthurgwain Marquez, Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, DVIDS, Defense Visual Information, Distribution Service.
Remembrance- Summer 2019 article

During the 15-month shutdown of the USS Arizona Memorial, important research was conducted on the sunken battleship USS Arizona to further efforts to preserve this hallowed place.

The nearly 30,000-ton 608-foot long steel battleship was built and commissioned in 1916. For the past 78 years, it has been underwater at Pearl Harbor as a result of Japan’s attack that launched the United States into World War II.

The battleship remains the tomb for most of the 1,177 USS Arizona sailors and Marines killed that fateful Sunday morning.

During the shutdown of the USS Arizona Memorial to repair moorings and a dock, divers installed three sensors on the

USS Arizona to study impacts to the battleship before and during repairs to the Memorial. Researchers focused on collecting data during a relatively inactive period of lower wake and vibrations from the Navy shuttles that normally deliver some 4,000 visitors to the Memorial daily. That data studies the impact of ships that come close to, but do not dock at the Memorial.

The second phase studied impacts to the Arizona while the dock repairs were ongoing. During the construction, researchers didn’t record any significant vibrations on the wreck or observe structural changes that would indicate shifting.

The third phase involves leaving the sensors in place to get baseline data on visitor use of the USS Arizona Memorial, which straddles the hull of the battleship but does not touch the shipwreck.

The conclusions from the data collected will be presented at a symposium in Boston this January titled “Hard Science on Hard Steel: Scientific Studies of the USS Arizona.” The gathering will feature experts from the National Park Service, Harvard University, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The decades long debate on the structural integrity of the deteriorating USS Arizona will be center stage.

Sessions are scheduled on corrosion rates and Finite Element Modeling (FEM), a virtual way to predict future degradation and try non-invasive solutions in the event of imminent collapse.

The regular oil sheens that visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial witness will be the focus of another panel. They are reminders of the estimated half a million gallons of oil onboard, a continuing concern as the decades march by.

The presentations in January will provide experts with the most up to date analysis of current data and research in order to effectively and respectfully manage this American war grave of huge significance.

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