Even to the present day, the Titanic continues to make headlines and fascinate individuals from all over the world. Not only was the ship an engineering marvel in its day, but the Titanic’s tragic sinking remains one of the most iconic events in maritime history.
Despite being labeled an “unsinkable ship” by its builders and the press, the R.M.S. Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, just four days into its doomed maiden voyage. While the tragic sinking is an event most people are familiar with, where exactly it sank remains somewhat shrouded in mystery to the casual observer.
Today, we will look at the Titanic’s final resting place. We will also explore the discovery of this location and what the water conditions would have been like for those unfortunate passengers and crew members who were forced to evacuate the ship.
If you are ready to expand your understanding of the Titanic and its sinking, let’s get started!
As you may know, the Titanic sank during its maiden voyage, which was scheduled to be a transatlantic trip from Southampton, England, to New York City, United States. Four days into its first voyage, the Titanic made fatal contact with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The ship sank roughly 370 miles, or 600 kilometers, southeast of Newfoundland, Canada. Given how remote this location is, it only added to the tragedy, as the distance from land hampered rescue attempts.
Regarding the exact coordinates of the Titanic’s sinking, the ship went down at roughly 41°43’55” N latitude and 49°56’54” W longitude.
While modern historians and maritime experts believe these coordinates are accurate, it is somewhat tricky to pinpoint an exact location, as the ship would not have dropped directly downwards during its sinking. Ocean currents would have influenced the location of the wreckage during its descent and following its sinking.
Given that the Titanic sank in April, it was a time when the water in the North Atlantic Ocean would have been particularly cold. Water temperatures at the surface would have been just above freezing, meaning roughly 28 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. These frigid conditions would have contributed to the risks faced by those forced to jump into the water.
On top of dangerously cold water temperatures, passengers and crew members had to contend with foggy conditions that would have severely limited visibility. This is because the warmer air and ice-cold water in the North Atlantic form a particularly dense fog at this time of year. It is also believed that the water would have been rough at this time of year, which may have contributed to the sinking in the first place.
The ocean surface where the Titanic sank is known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Experts describe it as a sort of underwater mountain range. As you will learn, locating the wreckage was much more difficult.
On top of the rocky conditions at the surface, where the Titanic sank, the wreckage would have dropped at least 12,500 feet before first contacting the seabed. Add sediment, corrosion, and over a century of decay into the mix, and it only makes sense that locating the Titanic was a challenging task.
As mentioned, the Titanic sank after colliding with an iceberg on April 15, 1912. According to records that survived the sinking, the collision occurred at 11:40 p.m. local time on April 14, but the actual sinking occurred in the early hours of the following day.
From the initial collision to the final submerging of the vessel, a total time of roughly two hours and forty minutes had elapsed. Given where it sank and the time of its sinking, the Titanic had covered approximately 1,450 nautical miles of the total 2,224 nautical mile journey.
Part of the reason there is so much mystery surrounding the location of the Titanic is the immense amount of time that its wreckage remained a complete mystery. Not until September of 1985 did researchers find the Titanic, which completely baffled salvage crews and research experts for many decades.
Attempts to locate the sunken Titanic began just days after the Titanic sank, but these efforts proved unsuccessful. Anything that could be found was floating, so it would have drifted in ocean currents significantly from the initial sinking location.
The 1985 discovery was part of a joint French and American effort to find the famous ocean liner. The expedition’s success was largely due to using an uncrewed submersible vehicle named Jason Junior. Using this new technology, the researchers could locate the Titanic 12,500 feet below the water’s surface. This discovery captured global attention and was considered one of the century’s significant discoveries.
Following the discovery of the Titanic’s location, debate was reignited about how the Titanic sank, who owned the rights to the wreckage and valuables items remaining inside, and what should be done in terms of salvage efforts.
The discovery also led to the U.S. Congress passing the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986. This act was designed to encourage American and international explorers to study and explore the shipwreck with respect. It was intended to prevent the wreckage site from turning into a treasure hunt where privately backed explorers would visit the Titanic to salvage valuables and other artifacts that could be sold to private collectors.
Following the groundbreaking discovery of the Titanic’s location in 1985, a follow-up expedition was launched in 1986. The expedition was carried out on behalf of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The expedition’s purpose was to examine the Titanic’s current condition and gain valuable insight into the events that caused its tragic sinking.
The main takeaway and success from the 1986 expedition were the first close-up images of the Titanic’s wreckage. These images proved incredibly valuable for those researching how and why the sinking occurred.
Following these first two monumental expeditions, many other crews have traveled down to the wreckage location to obtain high-resolution images and even retrieve priceless artifacts from the interior of the Titanic. Many of these objects are now displayed in museums worldwide, allowing those fascinated with the Titanic and its story to view items first-hand.
Numerous scientific expeditions continue to explore the site today. These efforts have resulted in detailed 3D maps of the wreckage and the surrounding terrain. Scientific exploration also continues with the purpose of plotting long-term preservation initiatives.
Sophisticated technology and uncrewed remote control submarines give researchers ways of studying the wreckage without having to disturb it. This is important as it helps preserve the Titanic’s resting place as an important historical and archaeological site.
As fans of the 1997 blockbuster hit Titanic will have seen at the movie’s beginning, these expedition efforts are complex and incredibly stressful. While this particular scene relied upon a mixture of real footage and CGI effects, it accurately portrayed the complex operation of visiting the site.
While many of the expeditions to the wreckage site today are scientific in nature and carried out by experts, a market has even opened up for hobbyists and adventure seekers to visit the site. With that said, these submersible exploration vacations are costly, and, as the recent OceanGate Titan expedition showed us, they can also be incredibly dangerous.
Salvage expeditions in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2004 have collected thousands of artifacts and remnants of the ship. These items have included everything from personal items from passengers, like jewelry and top hats, to fine china plates and silverware from the dining rooms. Even one of the decorative cherubs from the Titanic’s grand staircase has been recovered from the site.
In 2018, these items were appraised to have a value of roughly $200 million. This gives insight into why so many are willing to visit the site despite the cost and dangers associated with the expeditions.
Since then, the United States and the United Kingdom have signed a treaty specifically designed to protect the wreckage site and the artifacts within the ship. The joint legislation was signed in 2020 and granted the American and British governments the power to grant or deny entry into the wreck and remove items from the location. While the wreckage site resides outside American and British waters, the wreckage is believed to belong to both nations due to the ship’s history and ownership.
In the immediate aftermath of the sinking, new standards for safety were established. In 1914, just two years after the Titanic’s sinking, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was established. It revised a wide range of regulations relating to passenger safety, including the number of lifeboats required and how safety drills should be carried out.
This maritime treaty has undergone many revisions and continues to influence safety standards for all passenger ships. The mandatory passenger muster drills you will have experienced on board a cruise ship have their historical roots in the aftermath of the Titanic’s tragic sinking.
The sinking of the Titanic also resulted in numerous changes to ship design for ocean liners and other passenger vessels. Reinforced hulls and stronger build materials have now become standard.
Where the Titanic sank due to colliding with an iceberg, modern ships can withstand these types of impacts. Ships also feature better compartmentalization in the lower decks, so if a breach does occur, it can be contained without sinking the entire vessel.
Read Also: How and Why Did the Titanic Break in Half?
Ships also undergo safety inspections and maintenance fares more frequently than ships of the past. This is required according to laws designed to protect the safety of all passengers and crew aboard the ship. Since 1,517 individuals lost their lives due to the sinking of the Titanic, many of these laws and regulations are designed to prevent the scale of this tragedy from ever occurring again.
No, there are no plans to bring the wreckage to the surface. Not only would this be incredibly difficult, but there is a good chance that the remains of the Titanic would not survive a large-scale salvage attempt without collapsing. This is mainly due to the effects of corrosion and the impact of marine life buildup on the ship’s surface.
Many also consider the site a functioning grave for those lost during the ship’s sinking. Salvaging the vessel would result in ethical debates. With that said, there are ongoing efforts to recover valuable historical and cultural artifacts from the ship, especially items that are deemed educational.
While the Titanic is relatively well-preserved, given the time it has been submerged, it has deteriorated quite a bit since it was discovered in 1985. Corrosion is taking its toll, and parts of the hull are beginning to collapse. While the metallic portions of the ship are beginning to deteriorate, some areas of the Titanic’s interior are surprisingly well preserved.
Where the Titanic sank only contributed to the tragedy of the event. The ice-cold water and foggy conditions would have hampered rescue attempts and made survival less likely for those unable to board a lifeboat.
The exact location of the wreckage continues to be a lasting memorial to the victims, as well as a site of interest and exploration. Fortunately, modern-day cruise ships and ocean liners have taken lessons from the tragic event, and they are now built stronger.
They are equipped with improved navigation technology and communications systems. Not only are the ships themselves safer, they now abide by improved safety standards and regulations. Thankfully, it is doubtful that we will ever see another event like the sinking of the Titanic.
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