NASA scientists have turned over to the U.S. Navy the first phase of a data analysis program designed to find unexploded ordnance and mines in bays and harbors that were once used as gunnery ranges and test areas.

Space technology and computer applications are being adapted by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to help identify underwater mines and ordnance in data from existing Navy sonar, laser and magnetic instruments. JPL is also providing a chemical detector that will sniff out small traces of explosives in the water.

The purpose of the program, called Mobile Underwater Debris Survey System (MUDSS), is to demonstrate various technologies that can be used to survey former defense sites for unexploded waste, said Dr. Robert Somoano, MUDSS program manager at JPL.

Some of the explosive debris in various bays and harbors has been in place since long before World War II, Somoano said. "The Navy is getting into it because the country is concerned about cleaning up those underwater sites. The government is closing bases in several areas and they have to be cleared of all unexploded ordnance before they can be turned over to civilian authorities."

Now halfway through the three-year effort, MUDSS is being conducted by JPL under contract to the Department of Defense, with funding provided by the department's Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program. The work is being done in partnership with the Naval Coastal System Station, Naval Surface Warfare Center in Florida.

Once the Navy finds the debris, the problem is turned over to the U.S. Army, which has the responsibility for disposing of all unexploded military waste. The Army has its own program underway to clean up land bases.

The first year's feasibility demonstration site for MUDSS technologies has been at St. Andrews Bay, Panama City, FL, location of the Navy's Coastal Systems Station's test site. Most of the hardware tested in the demonstration was developed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

A separate JPL-developed instrument towed beneath the surface and behind the boat on a second cable is a chemical sensor that samples the water to detect the presence of explosives.

The five instruments are towed beneath the surface of the water on cables strung from a catamaran. The researchers made about 150 runs over the targets with various combinations of sensors functioning. There were 30 runs with all the sensors being used at once.

Somoano said potential users of these systems include the Army Environmental Center, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division. There also are potential commercial users, he said, including underwater survey and cleanup, de-mining, archeology site survey and law enforcement search operations.

MUDSS data and visualization programs will be showcased at the annual conference on Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Graphics (SIGGRAPH) in New Orleans, LA, on August 4-9.

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