Few names spark the imagery that "Titanic" can. The name conjures images of romance, luxury, opulence, tragedy and death. When the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage from England to New York City ninety-eight years ago in 1912, more than 1,500 souls perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic. Seventy-three years later, some 370 miles (600 km) south-east of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, Dr. Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Jean-Louis Michel of Ifremer discovered the wreckage of the Titanic 2 1/2 miles (4 km) beneath the Atlantic's surface.
The ship has always been at the center of interest for researchers. Before Ballard and Michel discovered the ship, many wanted to do just that. Some even wanted to raise it. There have been several visits to the site with submersibles being dispatched to collect artifacts, video or photographs.
Ninety-eight years later, yet another expedition to the Titanic site has come and gone. Plagued by both Hurricanes Danielle and Igor, the research expedition was conducted in two parts. The first ended in August of 2010 when Hurricane Danielle forced the expedition to return to port in St. John's, Newfoundland. The goal of the expedition is to document little-known areas of the wreckage before it completely disintegrates. Their focus is the stern of the ship. It hasn't been studied since the Titanic was discovered in 1985. Once all danger of Danielle had passed, the expedition on the research vessel Jean Charcot returned into the cold Atlantic waters to continue their work.
Expedition Titanic used two autonomous underwater vehicles, Ginger and Mary Ann (named for the two ladies from the American comedy Gilligan's Island) and a remotely operated vehicle loaded with cameras. The team were successful in capturing both stunningly clear and eerie photographs and video of some of the areas of the ship that have become legendary in the past nine decades.
The work of the researchers aboard Jean Charcot was interrupted by Mother Nature a second time, however. News of the impending approach of Hurricane Igor forced the team to head back to land. They arrived at port in St. John's, Newfoundland on Friday, September 17, 2010.
Even though Igor forced the team to turn back ahead of schedule, their research journey was a success. The researchers brought home a bounty of photographs and video documenting the fast-decaying wreckage of one of the most famous ships in history. Areas such as the bow, first-class promenade deck and the area where the ship smashed into the iceberg that sealed its fate were among the images collected by the crew. A crystal-clear picture of what happened on that fateful night in 1912 is being painted by the new images that allow us to see in stark, high-definition clarity how severe the damage to the ship really was. Using the mountain of video and photographic data collected, the researchers hope to be able to answer some of the long-asked questions surrounding the Titanic.
Many scientists, including Dr. Ballard have raised concerns that visits to the ship are doing more harm than good and quickening the decay of the ship. Visitor damage has led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to estimate that "the hull and structure of the ship may collapse to the ocean floor within the next 50 years." P.H. Nargeolet, expedition co-leader and director of underwater research for RMS Titanic, INC., has stated that "In a few years, all the deck will collapse. That's for sure. There's no question about that. The hull itself will be here for a long time."
Despite warnings that visitor interference is hastening the decay of the ship, Deep Ocean Expeditions is offering a 2011 "RMS Titanic Dive" that will set you back $40,000 (US Dollars) for a visit to the ship in a Russian submersible or a mere $5,000 if you don't want to go underwater but just stay aboard the ship. Bill Willard and Azamara Club Cruises will also be offering two 100th anniversary cruises. Currently, they include a topside memorial service and might offer virtual visits to the underwater site via remotely operated vehicles.
Now, this is strictly my opinion, but even if every single individual who pays the $40,000 to dive with Deep Ocean Expeditions or pays for the possible underwater virtual visit with the 2011 planned 100th anniversary cruise has a scientific goal in mind, does the Titanic really need such an intrusion right now? As rapidly as parts of the ship are decaying, only wholly serious scientific expeditions such as those performed earlier this month by the Jean Charcot crew should be allowed to invade the wreckage site, in my opinion. Every time the ship is disturbed a little more of it is lost. Is profit on a cruise really worth that?
For more information:
Cosmic Log: Titanic Quest Turns to New Territory
Cosmic Log: Expedition Bids Farewell to Titanic (Page contains expedition video)
Cosmic Log: Underwater Frontiers Still Beckon (Page contains expedition video)
Cosmic Log: How the Titanic Tore Apart (Page contains expedition video and photographs)
NBC News Reports of the Expeditions (contains video)
Expedition Titanic Video and Photograph Sources:
Expedition Titanic Web Site (click on the red "navigation" button on the left of the screen to navigate the site; "The Feed" contains video footage from the site)
RMS Titanic, INC. Facebook Page (houses a collection of photographs, you do not need an account to access this page)
Expedition Blog, Waitt Institute
Expedition Titanic YouTube Channel
RMS Titanic, INC Twitter Page
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Titanic News Page
David Gallo (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) Twitter Page
First-Class Promenade Deck
Expedition Titanic Target Planning Meeting
Titanic's "Jutting Bow"