Sunday, 2 October 2016

Beyond Titanic

Titanic is perhaps the most iconic ship in history, its tragic story known the world over.

The most celebrated ocean liner of its time even before it first sailed, Titanic was an incredible feat of engineering and ambition. Its maiden voyage ended in tragedy when it struck an iceberg and sank, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew.

From its construction in Belfast, through its dramatic sinking to the discovery of the wreck, it is a story that continues to capture the public imagination.

More about Titanic:
Titanic was one of three 'Olympic Class' liners commissioned by the White Star Line to be built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Construction began on the first of these great ships, Olympic, on 16 December 1908. Work on Titanic started soon after, on 31 March 1909. These magnificent vessels were the industrial marvels of their age and Titanic was to be the biggest, fastest and most luxurious liner yet.
After just three years, Titanic was finished - a floating city, ready to set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. On board was a collection of passengers comprising millionaires, silent movie stars, school teachers and emigrants, in search of a better life in the United States.
By the fifth day of its journey, Titanic was making swift progress across the Atlantic. Although Captain Edward Smith had plotted a new course upon hearing earlier reports of ice from other liners, there were many more communications that day of ice in Titanic's path. On the night of Sunday 14 April 1912, the sea was flat calm, the sky clear and moonless, and the temperature was dropping towards freezing. In such conditions, sea ice is very hard to spot.

At 11.40pm the lookout sounded the alarm and telephoned the bridge saying "Iceberg, right ahead." The warning came too late to avoid the iceberg and Titanic struck it less than 40 seconds later, tearing a series of holes along the side of the hull. Upon inspecting the damage, Titanic's chief naval architect Thomas Andrews said to Captain Smith that the ship would certainly sink. Six of the watertight compartments at the front of the ship's hull were breached, five of them flooding within the hour. Titanic was designed to stay afloat with only four compartments flooded.

Less than three hours later Titanic lay at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, nearly four kilometres down. The sinking of Titanic claimed more than 1,500 lives. For many, the tragic fate that befell Titanic would come to mark the passing of the opulence of the Edwardian era and foreshadowed the global tragedy of World War One. The story captured the public imagination across the world, spawning countless books, films, plays, memorials, museums and exhibitions. The discovery of the wreck by oceanographer Robert Ballard on a Franco-American expedition in 1985 gave rise to a fresh wave of interest that continues to this day.

The fascination with the wreck of Titanic began not long after the ship sank to the bottom of the north Atlantic, some 676 kilometres off Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, almost four kilometres below the surface. Early plans to find and raise the wreck were hindered by a combination of technical limitations and prohibitive cost.
By the 1980s, technological advances in sonar scanning made the dream of finding the wreck a tantalising possibility. The wreck of Titanic was finally found in 1985 by a Franco-American expedition headed by oceanographer Robert Ballard.

Many subsequent expeditions followed, most famously those of James Cameron. The film director used footage gathered from eleven dives to the wreck in his 1997 blockbuster, Titanic.
BBC correspondent Mike McKimm participated in a dive to the wreck of Titanic in 2005 in order to place a memorial plaque on the bridge of the ship. It reads "In memory of all those who died on RMS Titanic. From Harland and Wolff and the people of Belfast."

Submerged in a small Russian MIR submarine with Irish diver Rory Golden and pilot Anatoly Sagalevich, Mike captured remarkable footage of the ship's bow. This included the Marconi Room from which radio messages were sent and received, the forward mast, the grand staircase and the captain's quarters.
Also filmed was the debris field between this section of the ship and the stern, which lies hundreds of yards away after Titanic snapped in half close to the surface.
The famous ship is deteriorating rapidly, overwhelmed by the relentless spread of rusticles (named by Robert Ballard on account of their icicle-like shape) which are eating the manganese, iron and sulphur out of the steel and weakening the wreck.

It is estimated that Titanic will be unrecognisable as a ship within a hundred years, eventually becoming nothing more than an iron ore deposit at the bottom of the ocean.

The iceberg that sank Titanic
Each iceberg is unique, moulded by its individual journey through the polar seas. They float low in the water due to the sheer weight of the ice, which is why the tip of an iceberg is no measure of what lies beneath.
The International Ice Patrol has now traced where the iceberg that sank Titanic originated.
Greenland breeding ground
Eighty-five percent of all icebergs found in the North Atlantic come from the ice fjords on Greenland's west coast, and the ice shelf in Ilulissat is the most likely birthplace of the Titanic iceberg.
The iceberg that sank Titanic would have started life as a snowflake 15,000 years earlier. Snow that falls at the centre of the Greenland ice sheet is at first fluffy and not particularly dense, but it compacts with depth to become a third of its original size. Tens of metres below the surface it becomes so dense it turns to solid glacial ice.

An immense iceberg
In 1909, Ilulissat was producing just one or two of these huge icebergs each year. The iceberg that sank Titanic would have been up to a mile long, displacing around a billion tonnes of seawater.
It would have taken the iceberg over a year to edge its way down the 40-mile fjord. The relentless jostling of other bergs on this journey would have battered and eroded it, reducing it to half its birth weight.
Controlled by ocean currents
By 1911 the Titanic iceberg would have been picked up on the powerful west Greenland current and dragged down the north-eastern coast of Canada. It would have been huge, the above water ice alone rivalling the Colosseum in size.
Over a thousand miles from its birthplace and around a fortnight after its collision with Titanic, the last piece of the iceberg disappeared into the Atlantic ocean.

Thomas Andrews:

Thomas Andrews was the chief naval architect at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast during the early 1900s.

He brought the idea of 'Olympic class' ocean liners to life, overseeing their planning and construction. The most famous of these was Titanic, which he joined on its maiden voyage.

His actions when the ship sank on 15 April 1912 are believed to have saved many lives, but at the cost of his own.

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