Bacteria Eats Away at the RMS Titanic

The world famous shipwreck is now being threatened by oceanic bacteria.

by Myasha Nicholas
April 7, 2011
Since its tragic descent to two and a half miles below the North Atlantic on April 14th, 1912, the RMS Titanic has been gradually deteriorating along the ocean floor. Recently, the scientific community has discovered that the ship is decaying at an alarming rate and may be gone within 15 years because of a previously unknown bacteria.

The bacterium Halomonas titanicae is the main culprit and is eating away at the wreck, particularly the ship’s steel. Before this discovery, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that the structure would still be intact for another 50 years. Although the ship’s wreckage is trapped at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean at the mercy of this bacteria, efforts have been made to understand and preserve the ship in a virtual form.

Since oceanographer Robert Ballard and an international team discovered the Titanic in 1985, most early expedition goals have been to photograph the wreck or gather artifacts. Director of the film Titanic, James Cameron, journeyed to the North Atlantic in 1995, 2001 and 2005 to document the wreckage with a crew of technicians. This task was facilitated by the use of the manned submersibles Mir 1 and Mir 2. The underwater footage from these expeditions helped us understand the ship's deteriorating condition. Cameron led teams to the wreck to record the bow and the stern, which separated during the sinking and now lie one-third of a mile apart. Later this year CyArk hopes to launch the RMS Titanic Database Project. A great deal of the collected data from the 2001 and 2005 expeditions has been generously donated by Cameron. Stay tuned for updates on the public launch date of the database!

In 2010, Expedition Titanic in partnership with RMS Titanic, Inc. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts (WHOI) announced their intent to capture the ship via sonar scanning technology. After this initial scanning, the data will be brought together to create the most accurate model of the wreckage ever produced. The project's two main goals are to determine the status of the ship’s deterioration and also learn more about the tragic sinking of the Titanic.

The Titanic is believed to have also been damaged by early expeditions, contributing to its collapse; the submersibles employed to study the wreck may have landed on or bumped into the ship. Additionally, there are regular tourist visits to the ship which have had negative effects on the Titanic. Expedition Titanic will take the necessary measures to not cause any more damage to the already fragile ship.

These new mapping techniques and project undertaking by Expedition Titanic, RMS Titanic Inc., and WHOI may prove to be worthwhile not only to the heritage community but also to the general public as well, since only 50% of the ship’s surface area has been explored by submersibles. It may also help researchers gain more insight into the story of this infamous ship.
Photograph showing the Titanic wreck and the eerie rusticle formations created by underwater microorganisms. Credit: Cameron's Expedition.
Historic photograph of the Titanic departing from Southampton. Image in Public Domain.
Photograph of the Mir 2 submersible. Credit: Cameron's Expedition.
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