Titanic didn’t sail in ‘unlucky’ year for icebergs

"As polar ice sheets are increasingly losing mass, the iceberg risk is likely to increase in the future, rather than decline," says Grant Bigg. (Credit: NOAA/Flickr)

A new study sinks a long-held theory that the Titanic was unlucky for sailing in a year with an exceptional number of icebergs. In fact, the researchers say, the risk of icebergs is actually higher now.

Previously it had been suggested that the seas which sank the famous cruise ship—which set off on its maiden voyage 102 years ago this month—had an exceptional number of icebergs caused by lunar or solar effects.

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But researchers show the ship wasn’t as likely to strike an iceberg as previously thought.

Using data on iceberg locations dating back to 1913—recorded to help prevent a repeat of the Titanic disaster—they have shown that 1912 was a significant ice year but not extreme. The study will appear in the journal Weather.

“We have seen that 1912 was a year of raised iceberg hazard, but not exceptionally so in the long term,” says study leader Grant Bigg of the University of Sheffield.

“1909 recorded a slightly higher number of icebergs and more recently the risk has been much greater—between 1991 and 2000 eight of the ten years recorded more than 700 icebergs and five exceeded the 1912 total.

“As use of the Arctic, in particular, increases in the future with the declining sea-ice, the ice hazard will increase in water not previously used for shipping. As polar ice sheets are increasingly losing mass as well, the iceberg risk is likely to increase in the future, rather than decline,” Bigg points out.

The iceberg that sank the Titanic was spotted just before midnight on April 14, 1912, 1,640 feet away. Despite quick action to slow the ship, it wasn’t enough and the ship sank in just two and a half hours. 1,517 people perished in the disaster, which had only 700 survivors.

The National Environment Research Council funded the study.

Source: University of Sheffield