First Images In 15 Years Document Decay Of The Titanic

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NOAA/IFE/URI

Nearly 15 years from the last time humans visited the RMS Titanic, an international team of deep-sea explorers now returned to the wreck site
in the Atlantic Ocean, at a
depth of about 12,500 feet (3.8 km).
Over the course of
five submersible dives with the DSV Limiting Factor, the team documented the actual conditions of the wreck.
The worst decay was seen on the starboard (or right) side of the bow. The
captain’s bathtub, often photographed in the past, is gone as part of the deck collapsed.

Atlantic Productions

The
Titanic sank in April 1912 after a collision with an iceberg
, during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Only 73 years later, September 1985, the
wreck was located
about 370 miles south-southeast off the coast of Newfoundland, by a French-American team led by Jean-Louis Michel of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea and
Robert Ballard
of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The bow is still largely preserved, even if most superstructures on deck collapsed when the bow hit the seafloor. The impact and water pressure almost completely crushed the stern. A large debris field, from machinery to personal items of the passengers, is found between the stern and the bow. During the sinking, the Titanic broke apart at its weakest point, between the second and third funnel, where the machine room
was located
.

Apart from the damage done by the sinking, also time and microbes are slowly devouring the Titanic.

During the first visit to the wreck in 1985, scientists observed bacteria and fungi colonizing
the rusty remains
. Oxidizing the iron parts, the microorganisms produce energy to sustain their metabolism. One type of bacteria was even an unknown species, appropriately named
Halomonos titanicae
in 2010. The waste products of the microbial metabolism is a thick layer of rust, covering the entire wreck, forming stalactites (called 
rusticles
) along the hull. Every day the microorganisms consume almost 100 pounds of iron. The peculiar feeding mechanism causes quickly growing holes in the steel plates of the outer
hull
. The upper ship’s decks are made from thin steel plates,
quickly
decaying. The lower parts of the ship’s hull
are made
of thicker plates. Probably they will
decay
in the next decades. In the end, the weakened hull will collapse entirely and
be buried
by sediments, transported by underwater currents.

During an expedition in 2004, some signs of our modern civilization were found on the seafloor. In the debris field, Ballard found plastic cups from passing ships and iron chains or ballast bags of submersibles, visiting the wreck. The visiting submersibles also damaged the wreck, especially the area around the famous staircase. By landing on the ship’s decks, the heavy vehicles open new holes, causing visible damage to the upper decks.

Also, human activity on the sea surface has impacts on the Titanic. Unsustainable fishing along the
Grand Banks of Newfoundland
has significantly reduced the local fish population in the last decades. Fewer fish consume less
plankton
in the upper layers of the ocean
and
more organic matter sinks to the bottom of the sea. Here, the surplus of nutrients causes a bloom in the microbial community covering the wreck. A growing microbial community will accelerate the corrosion and decay of the Titanic.

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