The iceberg which sank the Titanic

I mentioned earlier this year the question about how long glaciers last before they melt away. As a sudden thought, I did a search on one of the most (in)famous glaciers in history, the one which sank the Titanic.

There are various articles which take quotes and text from each other, but this one from Gizmodo (2012) contains this interesting text:

…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, just below freezing. Such a temperature was of course lethally cold for all those passengers who had been forced to take to the open water to escape the sinking ship.

But such temperatures are far too warm to sustain icebergs 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 it likely broke off from Greenland in 1910 or 1911, and was gone forever by the end of 1912 or sometime in 1913.

So, even a (relatively) large iceberg, one large enough to gash open the Titanic, doesn’t last long until it melts away in certain ocean temperatures. (Obviously this is why icebergs aren’t a danger to shipping in the Mediterranean). Interesting to know.

As a side point, this article raises a particular theory as to the atmospheric conditions explaining why the lookouts on the ship didn’t see the iceberg until it was too late, while this 2012 article gives larger pictures of two of the candidate icebergs which caused the damage.

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