Titanic Sailing Conditions Were Not As Extreme As Modern Day
April 11, 2014

Arctic Ice And The Voyage Of The Titanic

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

One hundred and two years ago this week, the Titanic set off on its fateful maiden voyage from the United Kingdom. Coinciding with that anniversary is a new report from British researchers who have determined the conditions surrounding the iceberg that would eventually take 1,517 lives.

According to the report, which was published in the journal Weather, 1912 was not an exceptionally high year for icebergs – particularly in light of the conditions seen today. The finding counters previous theories that the Titanic set sail into unusually dangerous waters.

"We have seen that 1912 was a year of raised iceberg hazard, but not exceptionally so in the long term,” explained study author Grant Bigg, an Earth sciences professor at the University of Sheffield, in a statement. “1909 recorded a slightly higher number of icebergs and more recently the risk has been much greater – between 1991 and 2000 eight of the ten years recorded more than 700 icebergs and five exceeded the 1912 total."

The new study is based on weather records and data of Arctic sea ice conditions recorded in 1913 – partly in reaction to the Titanic tragedy. The researchers found that several factors “combined to increase the iceberg hazard on that fateful day.”

“High pressure had dominated the mid-latitude, central Atlantic for several days and by the time of the collision a ridge linking two high-pressure centers over Nova Scotia and the south of Ireland extended across the entire Atlantic,” the researchers said.

“(W)inds and temperatures, assisted by the prevailing southward flow of the ocean's Labrador Current on the Grand Banks, led to transport of icebergs and sea ice further south than is currently normal for the time of year, but not beyond the known limits to icebergs during the twentieth century,” the study team added.

The report also described the origin of the Titanic iceberg, which was reported to be 50 to 100 feet high and 400 feet long, according to eyewitness accounts. Based on extensive modeling, the study researchers said the iceberg probably came from southwest Greenland and calved from the ice sheet in the autumn of 1911. The researchers added that the iceberg probably began life with a length of over 1,600 feet, a depth of over 980 feet and a weight of 84 tons.

Under the auspices of the Coast Guard, the International Ice Patrol (IIP) has kept an eye on the Arctic waters since 1913 and mostly prevented an unexpected iceberg encounter. However, occasional collisions and sinkings do occur periodically off the coast of Antarctica. The study authors noted that climate change has opened up several new polar shipping lanes and as a result increased the odds of a collision.

"As use of the Arctic, in particular, increases in the future with the declining sea-ice the ice hazard will increase in water not previously used for shipping,” Bigg said “As polar ice sheets are increasingly losing mass as well, the iceberg risk is likely to increase in the future, rather than decline."