Monday 9 April 2012

Titanic iceberg risks in the modern age

With the Balmoral recreating the Titanic's voyage Titanic route  (, some interesting information on the current status and risks to shipping from icebergs.

Sitting in Cambridge at 52 degrees North, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Titanic sank off New foundland at about 41.5 degrees North, i.e. a full 10 degrees further South (

Ocean currents and Greenland are mainly responsible for these differences. Our milder climate is due to the beneficial effects of the warm Gulf Stream that originates from southern warmer waters and continues up to the arctic ( On the other side of the Atlantic currents swirl around the southern tip of Greenland and then hug the coast direction North. The currents pass the Greenland glaciers that are calving icebergs in the Spring (

The icebergs are carried towards the Canadian coast and then join a southward bound current that follows the contours of the North American continent. The combination of the size of icebergs, the cold current and the fact that it actually takes quite a lot of heat to melt ice means that sizeable icebergs still survive in the ocean as the current sweeps east and south of Newfoundland

Large icebergs can be detected by radar. However even "smaller" chunks of ice are more difficult to detect, being almost toally submerged. In addition to icebergs, the terminology of ice hazards includes Bergy Bits (about 5 to 15m in length) and Growlers (less than 5m long)
( These are still hazards as even just cubic meter of water weighs a metric ton, so that growlers and bergy bits can range from 5 ton to 30 tons.

Icebergs themselves range from small (15m - 60m long) to extrememly large such as iceberg B-15. It calved in 2000, was larger than Jamaica at 11,000 square kilometers and weighed a cool three billion tons ( B-15 still had not fully melted a decade later. It gradually broke up, with one piece making it as far as New Zealand in 2006.

According to a BBC article, icebergs still cause shipping accidents at a rate of about 2.3  year (57 between 1980 - 2005 ( The causes are increased traffic in the acrctic waters due to search for mineral resources and ships risking travelling further North into iceberg affected waters to cut journey times and fuel costs by trimming up to 1000 miles off journeys.

Since the Titanic's fatal voyage, an international iceberg watch has been established. The International Ice Patrol issues charts of observed icebergs along the North American coast ( As I write this article, there are are about 173 icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland, between 46 degrees North and 55 degrees North

I assume that the Balmoral, recreating the Titanic's journey, will be taking a safer course, rather than making any shortcuts, to arrive at the location of the Titanic at circa 41 degrees, 43.5 minutes North, 49 degrees, 56.8 minutes West, on 14th April - 100 years after the original event.

Sunday 1 April 2012

I'm not panicking about fuel, i'm rational!

Have you noticed that when people where interviewed in the petrol queues recently, it was not them that was panic buying just everyone else?

The strange thing appears to be that this is indeed the case for everyone. Each individual was not panic buying but making a prudent decision to ensure that they had some petrol for perfectly rational personal reasons. I too felt the mental tug to consider refueling. Had my car's tank not been three quarter's full, I might have done so.

What causes these individual choices that collectively have unintended consequences, like causing a fuel shortage that we were trying to avoid?

The plethora of psychologists commenting on the web had a common underlying message. Overall, the analysis is as follows:

We are told on the one hand that there will be a potential fuel tanker strike in the near future.
The government says, do not worry, just think ahead a bit and plan.
We think, if the government say there is an issue but we shouldn't worry, then there must be a slightly worrying issue, otherwise why would this have been brought to our attention.
The situation is now very much like the game theory of the "prisoner's dilemma" - we look at four potential choices:
  1. I do not buy fuel, everybody else does not buy extra fuel, fuel stocks OK for the moment
  2. I do not buy fuel, everybody else buys fuel, it runs out and I get none when I need it
  3. I do buy fuel, everybody else does not buy fuel, so I'm OK
  4. I do buy fuel, everybody else buys fuel, at least I'm OK for the moment
The temptation to buy earlier rather than later is there. Some people do go ahead and buy fuel. Others wait until we see what the rest are doing.

Then the media announces that there is an increase in fuel purchases at the pumps.

So for those who have not bought yet, the balance shifts. Options 1 and 3 no longer apply. If I do not buy fuel now, I might not get any later. If I buy now at least I'll be OK.

More people arrive at the pumps - the media start talking of "panic buying". This reinforces my choices. If everyone else is panicking and looking out for themselves, it is only logical that I too buy if I have not already done so.

I'm rational - it is everyone else who seems to be panicking! Yet like me, they are making the same rational choice.

And so, with our impeccable individual logic we collectively create the crisis we were trying to avoid in the first place!

Some links to psychologist's comments and the prisoner's dilemma here.

No panic for petrol
The logic of panic buying
Should you panic buy fuel? A true prisoner's dilemma
Media to blame for panic buying

Other advice on saving fuel:
Cheap Petrol & Diesel - Cut your fuel spend by a third

Ideas and concepts communicated simply.