It was a cold and moonless night when the Titanic sank. All had been well until 11.40pm on 14 April 1912, when the crow’s nest lookouts sighted a large iceberg, 500m ahead. Despite desperate avoidance efforts the ship struck the iceberg, and in just over two and half hours the entire ship had sunk, with the loss of 1514 lives. Now new research reveals that the disaster may have been triggered by unusual weather in 1908.
The Titanic struck her berg at just over 41°N. During an average year only a few hundred icebergs make it south of 48°N, before melting away. But 1912 was an unusual year, with 1038 icebergs crossing this latitude line, nearly 400 of them in April. Some have blamed the increase in icebergs on exceptional high spring tides that year, or low sunspot activity, and certainly the weather at the time played a significant role: a dominant high pressure system resulted in days of northerly winds, and combined with the ocean’s Labrador Current, many icebergs travelled further south than normal.
But in fact the catastrophe may have been set in motion by a warm, wet year over Greenland in 1908, resulting in greater snow accumulation. Writing in the journal Weather, Grant Bigg and David Wilton of Sheffield University explain how the snow soaked through cracks in the ice sheet, encouraging excess iceberg calving over the following few years. Soberingly, global warming has increased iceberg hazard greatly in recent decades, making years like 1912 more the norm than the exception.
As always, reality begs to differ:
Titanic Sunk During Average Iceberg Year
“more than a century of Atlantic iceberg counts reveals 1912 was an average year for dangerous floating ice.”
Old Coast Guard records are throwing cold water on a long-standing explanation for the loss of the Titanic: the suggestion that the fateful journey took place in waters bristling with icebergs, making 1912 an unlucky year to sail the North Atlantic.
Instead, more than a century of Atlantic iceberg counts reveals 1912 was an average year for dangerous floating ice. The findings also contradict a popular notion that the Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier on Greenland’s west coast birthed the Titanic’s deadly ‘berg. Instead, a computer model suggests that one of the glaciers at Greenland’s southern tip released the iceberg that hit the Titanic on April 14, 1912, drowning more than 1,500 people in the frigid ocean.