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The famous old Titanic is disappearing into time – a new expedition observed the corrosion

Posted September 2, 2019

RMS Titanic was a grand ship in 1912. It was first ordered in 1908, laid down in 1909, launched in 1911 and commissioned in 1912. Sadly, that was where it’s history ended – the unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in cold north Atlantic waters. The wreck of Titanic was discovered in 1985 and since it’s been visited a few times. But if you are thinking about recovering it, this new expedition will put those thoughts to rest.

In fact, those dreams were never real. Titanic lays 3.7 km below the sea level. It is broken in two major pieces and many other smaller bits. When it was discovered in 1985, it was already significantly damaged by corrosion, which did surprise scientists at first, but totally made sense a bit after. Huge rusticles were falling off the side of the Titanic and once the best in the world structure was actually falling apart significantly. Huge rusticles were falling from the hull and it was obvious that in coming years it will become a huge pile of nothing.

This is how the hull of Titanic looked in 2004 – now it is much worse. Image credit: NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island via Wikimedia

As you might imagine, diving so deep to see the Titanic is rather expensive. After a number of expeditions and several documentaries filmed, people stopped visiting the legendary ship. Why would you continue going there? Firstly, it is a place where many people died and are resting in peace. Secondly, not much to do there – the wreckage has been investigated thoroughly and some artefacts have been recovered. And so the old Titanic has been left alone for 14 years until now.

Now scientists and filmmakers returned aboard a 4.6m-long, 3.7m-high submersible, called the DSV Limiting Factor. They were able to observe the shocking progress of the corrosion. Parks Stephenson, Titanic Historian said: “The most shocking area of deterioration was the starboard side of the officer’s quarters, where the captain’s quarters were. Captain’s bath tub is a favourite image among the Titanic enthusiasts, and that’s now gone. That whole deck hole on that side is collapsing taking with it the staterooms, and the deterioration is going to continue advancing.”

Famous image of the partly collapsed bathroom of Captain Edward Smith in 2003 – now this area is almost entirely collapsed. Image credit: Lori Johnston, via Wikimedia

And the advancement of the corrosion is surprising. Titanic is, obviously, not exposed to air or sunlight. It is also in quite cold waters – temperature here is around 1 degree Celcius. It seems like conditions are perfect for preservation, but in reality bacteria thrive in this environment and RMS Titanic is disappearing. Every expedition noticed living creatures around the wreck and there is plenty of oxygen even down there to encourage the rusting process.

And so the RMS Titanic is disappearing. This might encourage more expeditions in the area to film what it looks like now. After all, what we can save are the images.

Rusticles hanging from the hull of Titanic in 2003. Image credit: Lori Johnston, via Wikimedia

By the way, fun fact – James Cameron, the director of the famous “Titanic” movie from 1997, has visited RMS Titanic 3 times. He became an expert in deep sea diving due to his interest in the ship.


Source: Newcastle University

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