"I'll never let go, Jack!"


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            We've all seen the movie, and if you haven't, I highly recommend it. However, I think sometimes we all forget that the Titanic was more than just a movie; it was an actual event in American history. The Titanic (which ironically was created to be "unsinkable") sank on April 14, 1912 and killed 1,517 people in the process. But how did something meant to stay afloat sink completely within 3 hours? There had to be some science behind it.

            Scientists have been examining the reasoning behind the ship's doom for years and have come to the conclusion that it was not due to one specific event. The sinking was a result of "a perfect storm of circumstances" also known as an "event cascade."

The first problem was regarding the construction of the ship; in what appears to have been an effort to save money, "the rivets that held the ship's hull together were not uniform in composition or quality and not been inserted in a uniform fashion." Because of this, the hull part of the ship that hit the iceberg was much weaker than the rest of the Titanic's body, which resulted in serious damage upon impact. Science writer Richard Corefield noted, "...six compartments flooded when, if it had only been four, the ship would not have sunk." If these particular rivets had not been used, the stress that in this case severely damaged the hull of the boat could have been avoided.

Secondly, it is speculated that tides "dislodged icebergs that were stuck in the Labrador Sea, sending more of them toward the waters traversed by the Titanic a couple of months later." In addition, according to historian Tim Maltin, "the air column [from the Labrador Current] was cooling from the bottom up, creating layers of cold air below layers of warmer air," which is known as thermal inversion. This phenomenon causes light to refract in abnormal ways, which can cause a mirage known as a false horizon. Science Illustrated noted, "the mirage between the false horizon and the real one prevented the lookout from seeing the iceberg until it was only a mile away." The "distorted air" also led to communication problems between the Titanic and the Californian (a nearby ship), making it nearly impossible for either ship to see the other's lamp signals.

There are many other reasons why the Titanic sank: the ship was moving too fast, the iceberg warnings were not sent as urgent, the binoculars were locked up, etc. Whatever the case, it's still horrifying to me that thousands of Americans set fourth on a luxurious cruise vacation that took such a horrible turn for the worst. Unfortunately, during the times of the Titanic, nothing could have been done to stop the combination of multiple unfortunate events that lead to this catastrophe. 

How can we prevent tragedies like this from happening? Well, there's no way to guarantee safety at all times, but thankfully our world today is a lot more technologically advanced now than it was back in the days of the Titanic. There were too many small mistakes that were overlooked before sending the Titanic out to sea. It's important that we are prepared for the worst at all times, and the Titanic was definitely not prepared. Everything comes back to science, and many aspects of this tragedy could have been different if things were looked at a bit more in depth. 

titanic-sinking.jpg   

2 Comments

I just found an article http://www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/09/25/the-secret-of-how-the-titanic-sunk?page=3 about speculation on how the Titanic sank and there is heavy evidence that supports your weak rivet theory. At first I thought they were using subpart rivets, but the article says the ship was designed to the best of its ability at the time.

In that article it specifically says "Could the Titanic have been stronger? Certainly. Higher-quality rivets or a thicker hull might have kept the ship afloat longer." The ship was definitely built to the best of its ability and would have sank no matter what was changed; however, something as simple as different rivets or a better hull could have saved so many more lives since the ship wouldn't have sank as fast. It's important to study these details so that problems like this can be prevented in the future.

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