Fate of Titanic’s icy foe examined
We all know what happened to the Titanic 100 years ago this week, but what became of its legendary foe – the mysterious block of ice that proved the “unsinkable” ship all too sinkable?
Actually, there may be a couple of photos in existence that show the deadly iceberg, shortly after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic with more than 1,500 souls aboard.
According to the website io9.com, it’s quite possible sailors aboard two ships in the area of where the Titanic sank snapped pictures of the iceberg collided with the ill-fated ship on April 15, 1912.
“… both photographs feature the telltale sign of a collision with a ship, and likely a recent one at that: a streak of red paint,” writes 109.com.
One of the photos was taken by the chief steward of the German ocean liner SS Prinz Adalbert, which was sailing through the North Atlantic on April 15, just miles away from where the Titanic had sunk the night before.
“At the time, the chief steward hadn’t yet learned of the Titanic‘s fate, so he wasn’t even on the lookout for icebergs,” the site writes. “He simply spotted a streak of red paint along the iceberg’s base, which most likely meant a ship had collided with it in the last twelve hours.”
This second photo was taken by a Captain De Carteret of the Minia, a cable ship sent to the site of the Titanic’s sinking to recover corpses and debris.
“The captain claimed this was the only iceberg in the area, and the red paint was again a clear sign that a ship had recently struck it,” io9.com writes. “There’s some disagreement over whether this was the only iceberg in the area, but it certainly seems likely that something had hit it, and the odds are good that that something was the Titanic.”
The site goes on to provide interesting background regarding the formation of icebergs, stating that the massive block of ice in question likely began its slow journey into the path of the White Star liner more than 3,000 years earlier:
Again, we can only guess at the exact details, but the story likely began with snowfall on the western coast of Greenland somewhere around 1,000 BCE. After a few months, this snow has been turned into a more compacted form called firn, which then over subsequent decades is compressed into dense ice by the weight of newer snow on top of it.
The frozen water in these glaciers is slowly forced further westward towards the sea. When they finally reach the coast of the Arctic Ocean, the lapping tides break off chunks of the ice, and icebergs are calved from the glacier, some thirty centuries after their source water was first deposited. The iceberg that sank the Titanic began its journey as a rough contemporary of King Tutankhamun, entire civilizations rising and falling while it made its slow march to infamy.
But once all that’s done, the iceberg’s life was a short one. We know that because the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, rather than the Arctic, which means the currents must have taken it far south of where it was calved. Starting on the Greenland coast, it would have moved from Baffin Bay to the Davis Strait and then onto the Labrador Sea and, at last, the Atlantic.
The Titanic iceberg was one of the lucky ones, so to speak, as the vast, vast majority of icebergs melt long before they reach that far south. Of the 15,000 to 30,000 icebergs calved each years by the Greenland glaciers, probably only about 1% of them ever make it all the way to the Atlantic. On April 15, 1912, the iceberg was some 1,5000 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
The water temperature on the night of the Titanic sinking was thought to be about 28 degrees Fahrenheit – lethally cold for all those passengers who had been forced to take to the open water to escape the sinking ship – but far too warm to sustain an iceberg for very long.
The average life expectancy of an iceberg in the North Atlantic is only about two to three years from calving to melting.
That means the berg that brought the Titanic to doom likely broke off from Greenland in 1910 or 1911, and was gone forever by the end of 1912 or sometime in 1913, io9 adds.
(Above: Photo taken by the chief steward of SS Prinz Adalbert on April 15 while sailing through the North Atlantic A streak of red paint is said to be visible along the iceberg’s base. Photo credit: io9.com)