Saturday, April 14, 2012

Then there was the tide

The fourth in our six-part series commemorating 
the Titanic Centenary and the lesson learned

Did an abnormally high tide in January 1912 contribute to the sinking of the Titanic three and a half months later? (By Forecast Advisor Brad Lear)

Tonight, at 11:07 PM Eastern Daylight Time, the world should begin  to mark the moment when Titanic struck a previously unseen iceberg, and changed our worldview about a great many things. For most of the past century, the generally accepted time has been 11:40 PM. However, recent examination of the fact that the ship was actually located in today's Atlantic Standard Time Zone has cast new light on what time it really happened. The vast majority of historical records suggest that very few sinkings have ever occurred from an ocean liner making a fatal encounter with an iceberg. 

However, it may have been difficult to avoid, if at all. 

On January 4, 1912, an alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon occurred, a normal celestial phenomena, causing the highest tides of the month. What made this arrangement different than the ordinary was that the Moon had not been this close to the Earth since A.D. 796. 

Experts theorize this arrangement caused much-higher than normal  tides, releasing a swarm of icebergs into the path that the Titanic would take 101 days later. Contemporary observers noted that the Spring of 1912 was an unusually bad season for icebergs in the North Atlantic. This article by "How Stuff Works" shows imagery of the ice field in mid-April 1912 in the vicinity of where Titanic sank. Physics tells us that icebergs calved from the Greenland glaciers would not float fast enough to reach that Titanic’s path in such a length of time. 

So where did this “fleet” of icebergs come from? Researchers (Texas State physics faculty members Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, along with senior contributing editor at Sky & Telescope magazine, Roger Sinnott) theorize that many older icebergs that had run aground much further south had been refloated by this small, but significant, extra rise in the sea level. The approximate 5% increase in the tide height that January night was enough to turn loose an untold number of grounded ‘bergs in Labrador and Newfoundland.

These released icebergs would have had ample time to meander into the way of the Titanic which was speeding its way to New York, trying to set a record for crossing on its maiden voyage. It was almost as if no force of nature could have prevent the disaster, because science shows it was almost impossible to avoid the iceberg field. The only decision that could have changed history lay with the Captain, and his choice cost 1,500 others their lives.

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