The News That Wasn’t:Titanic Decaying

This last week saw a lot of reporting in print and online about a recent dive to Titanic. These were the most up-to-date photos of the wreck. Commentators went agog describing how it was falling apart. Some blamed it on global warming. Some opined it should be brought up. Others had silly things to say as well. But a few pointed out this is exactly what is supposed to be happening so this is not a surprise.

Titanic sank in 1912 and has been resting in two parts on the bottom of the cold North Atlantic ever since. Until 1985, no one had a clue as to what it would look like. And people were stunned by what was revealed. It also confirmed that, as some reported back in 1912, the ship had broken in two. Another thing that was dashed was the concept of a long gash. Instead it was punctures caused by the iceberg that resulted in water entering the ship.

Scientists have noted over the years that Titanic was slowing but surely going to deteriorate. Photos from later expeditions confirmed this was well underway. A recent article in Forbes about this decay noted the following:

During the first visit to the wreck in 1985, scientists observed bacteria and fungi colonizing the rusty remains. One type of bacteria was an unknown species, appropriately named Halomonos titanicae in 2010. Oxidizing the iron parts, the microorganisms produce energy to sustain their metabolism. 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, so these quickly decaying this part of the ship may collapse in a few years. The lower parts of the ship’s hull are made of thicker plates. They will likely decay over the next few decades. In the end, the weakened hull will collapse entirely and be buried by sediments, transported by underwater currents.

Other things had an impact. Now there is disagreement as why there are so many microorganisms on Titanic. Some say it is due to over fishing (which means those little microorganisms multiplied and sank to bottom and found Titanic delicious) while others argue it is actually what is supposed to be happening.

The fact that Titanic is decaying is not news but the news media throws it up like this could not or should not be happening. Except of course we know that it could not possibly stay the same. And eventually the wreck will slowly but steadily decrease in mass as the sea claims as much as it can. One day most of it will no longer by visible. Only bits and pieces will remain of the once great liner. Fortunately we have a library of photographs and artifacts along with exhibits that will keep the story alive long after the wreck is gone.

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