Monday, 9 April 2012

Titanic iceberg risks in the modern age


With the Balmoral recreating the Titanic's voyage Titanic route  (http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Titanic-Route-Map-A1514), 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic#Wreck).

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream). 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 (http://webspace.webring.com/people/xa/aktaion/icetrack.htm).

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
(http://www.scribd.com/doc/62594241/10/Map-13-Iceberg-Routes-to-the-North-Atlantic).

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)
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceberg). 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceberg_B-15). 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 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17257653). 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 (http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=iipCharts). As I write this article, there are are about 173 icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland, between 46 degrees North and 55 degrees North
(http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?Do=popImage&urlRef=images/iip/data/2012/20120409_NAIS65.gif.)

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.



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