Five ways the Titanic shipwreck advanced submarine science

The tragic sinking of Titanic is a piece of history that continues to be remembered around the world. After the wreck was discovered in 1985, more than 70 years after the ship sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, scientists have been interested in studying the wreckage to understand the geological, biological and chemical processes of the deep sea. In 1991, GSC Atlantic marine geoscientist Steve Blasco (now retired) was part of a 132-member expedition to study the Titanic wreckage on the seafloor. Here are 5 things scientists discovered during that cruise.

1. The Titanic wreckage is an excellent time-marker for science

Titanic is one of the most significant seafloor time-markers ever discovered because the vessel was brand new when it sank to the bottom of the ocean and scientists knew exactly when it went down. This is important because scientists can measure new scientific processes from the very beginning.

2. The deep sea is more active than expected

Exploring the deep sea wreckage approximately 4,000 metres below the surface, scientists discovered activity on the seafloor they were surprised to find. They could see that there were waves and ripples in the sand created by the interaction of the current with the wreckage. This told scientists that there is an active current at this depth. They also found life at this depth. In fact, Titanic itself had become a reef. Twenty-four different species including fish, crabs and corals were found to have made a home at the site.

 

3. The Titanic wreckage settled in a landslide scar

After the ship was found, scientists were puzzled that the wreckage hadn’t sunk very deep into the seafloor. The ship weighed 46,000 tonnes but had only sunk a few metres into the bottom of the ocean. Core samples taken from the site in 1991 revealed the wreckage was resting on the eastern wall of a canyon that was in fact a landslide scar where the sediment is very dense. This discovery sparked interest into studying submarine geo-hazards such as these as they can have an impact on the placement of infrastructure such as communications cables.

 

4. The steel used to construct Titanic was brittle

Scientists recovered a piece of steel from the wreckage and later determined the steel was brittle because of the sulphur content. This fact would not have been known at the time of construction. As a result, the impact of hitting the iceberg caused more damage and the ship took on more water because the steel was not as strong as originally thought.

 

5. A biological process of corrosion is covering Titanic in rusticles

Scientists discovered a biological rusting process occurring on the wreckage that was determined to be caused by bacteria eating the steel which produces rusticles. These rusticles look like icicles but are the colour of rust. This process is of interest to scientists looking to find ways to protect structures placed in the deep sea.

 

Studying the Titantic wreckage has lead scientists to many discoveries about the geology, biology and chemistry of the deep sea. These findings continue to provide key information to consider for future research projects and exploration. As Steve Blasco explains, if given the opportunity, his colleagues from the expedition in 1991 would jump at the chance to go back and see how this time-marker has changed over the last 27 years.

 

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