This Sunday will be the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the North Atlantic on April 15th, 1912. The tragic story of the sinking of the world most luxurious ocean liner is so well known the the story of its demise is now “common knowledge”… how a ship that was declared “unsinkable” struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank, taking with it the lives of over 1,500 passengers. I’ve always found the story of the Titanic fascinating. As a kid in 1982, I purchased a book detailing the “lost” vessel entitled “Titanic: End of a Dream”. Just three years later, they found the long lost ship more than 12,600 feet (2.4miles) beneath the ocean surface, roughly 1,000 miles east of the Massachusetts coast (2/3rds of the way into its trip from South Hampton, England). Thinking about this upcoming 100th anniversary, a thought crossed my mind: “Thanks to Global Warming, how common are icebergs in the vicinity of the crash that could of sunk the Titanic if it sailed today?” I decided to investigate.
Most people DON’T know that the year after the disaster, the U.S. & Canadian marine services joined forces to track icebergs floating in the North Atlantic to warn ships of the potential danger and prevent another deadly collision. The American agency is known as “The International Ice Patrol” (IIP), while its Canadian counterpart is called “The Canadian Ice Service”. Since 1913, The North American Ice Service (NAIS) has mapped & recorded every iceberg floating in the open waters off the North American coast. In the early days, the information was published in book form. Today, daily updates are uploaded to GPS satellites and tracked in real time.
The Titanic sank “in the icy waters of the North Atlantic” after it was unable to avoid a collision with an ice flow that ripped a hole in the bow, flooding one more compartment than the vessel was built to withstand. If you want details of the actual wreck, I suggest you rent the movie (definitely NOT the above Disney-spoof from a 1998 episode of Saturday Night Live) or any of the nearly one-hundred documentaries on the subject. That’s not why we’re here.
So I went sniffing around the IIP website to see if icebergs can still be found in that same area today where the Titanic had its fatal encounter 100 years ago (Google Earth: 49° 56′ 49″ W, 41° 43′ 32″ N)… roughly around the 41st parallel. Fortunately, the Coast Guard keeps these records online. Unfortunately, the IIP only hosts records dating back to 1998. I looked at every map available. Oddly, in 2005, mapping duties were handed over to Canada whose archives are not available online (only daily maps/reports). For the years I was able to check… 1998 thru 2004… I found only THREE appearances of icebergs that far South (details below).
Not wanting to draw any hasty conclusions, I pondered: “Is it possible icebergs often float further South and I just missed it?” Icebergs don’t stay in one place. They move (around 2mph), pushed by deep ocean currents. So I contacted the IIP and asked about icebergs appearing in the vicinity of the Titanic collision today. Happily, I received a quick response:
We do not have the daily iceberg maps earlier than 1998 on our web site, but our annual reports contain twice-per-month maps.
Archive.org has a (nearly) complete set of Ice Patrol’s annual reports, which go back to 1913 [sic: 1922].
It is a little difficult to get around the site because reports are listed by volume number rather than year, and they are not in order.
I can’t give you an exact count, but several times there have been icebergs near the Titanic site. It is not common, but it does happen. For example, look at Volume 81 (1995 season). If you go to page 26 (the 15 May 1995 map), you’ll see there were icebergs near the Titanic site on that date.
Yes, currently, our daily product shows that there are no known icebergs south of 45N. Most of this year’s icebergs seem to be close to the island of Newfoundland.
United States Coast Guard
Long story short, I thought it best to compare the number of icebergs that far south years ago compared to the number of icebergs in that region today. (Editors Note: While extensive, this research is by no mean “exhaustive”… limited greatly by the records available to me online… and should not be used as “definitive proof” in any climate study. – Mugsy)
The oldest available online record is 1922-1925 (PDF), in which all ice formations (bergs, flows and floating ice) were recorded only as coordinates in journal format, making them incredibly difficult to research.
(highlighting & date is mine – Click to Enlarge)
While modern reported sightings are visually mapped:
(Click to Enlarge)
In that first journal (1922-1925), I was able to find four distinct instances of icebergs as far south as 40° N (100 miles South of the Titanic crash site) and seven icebergs as far south as 39° N (200 miles South of the Titanic crash site) between 1922 and 1925.
But between the years of 1988 thru 2004 (the most recent years for which we have maps), I found only eight sightings in seventeen years (only the last date is exact):
- Apr 30, 1990 – 40′
- May 15, 1990 – 40′
- May 30, 1990 – 39′
- Jun 30, 1993 – 40′
- May 15, 1995 – 40′
- Mar 31, 2002 – 40′
- Jun 30, 2002 – 40′
- May 21, 2003 – 39′
Over that same period, I found 10 reported sightings of icebergs close to the 41st parallel (the latitude along which the Titanic sunk). And while I do not have maps since 2005, the Canadian Ice Service does record “Total Accumulated Ice Coverage” every year since 1971, showing a marked decline since 1996.
Almost 100 years to the day of the Titanic’s fatal brush with an iceberg near the 41st parallel, you will not find any icebergs South of 46° N… more than 500 miles North of the crash site. I highly encourage someone with more resources than what’s available to me for free over the Internet to record/demonstrate on the dramatic decline in the number of icebergs in just the past 25 years.
And in a related story: Climate Change is linked to March’s record-breaking weather…
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