A Geological Study of the Titanic Shipwreck Site
When the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14,1912; where did the Titanic sink? After the collision, the ship broke into two large pieces and into many smaller pieces creating a debris field approximately 15 square miles in size on a gently sloping canyon on the ocean floor. The debris was scattered in an area of the North Atlantic about 1,200 miles northeast of New York City. The geological features of the shipwreck site is well documented in several scientific journals and with the use of the Google Earth app many geological features of the ocean floor such as depth and distant from various cities can be determined relative to the site.
Geological Location of the Titanic Shipwreck
The exact location of the Titanic wreck was determined after the bow and stern sections of the Titanic were discovered and recorded by Dr. Robert Ballard in 1985. The positions of the bow and stern are 49 deg 56 min 49 seconds West longitude, 41 deg 43 min 57 seconds North latitude and 49 deg 56 min 54 seconds West longitude 41 deg 43 min 35 seconds North latitude in 12, 600 feet of water (about 2.5 miles below the ocean surface). These numbers indicate that the Titanic shipwreck is located in the northern and western hemispheres of the Earth approximately halfway to the position of the North Pole from the equator. It is located in the Newfoundland Basis. The exact location of the shipwreck is also marked in the Google Earth app along with photos of the site.
Geologically speaking, the wreck of the Titanic landed on a relatively smooth, sandy section of the North Atlantic floor which made it possible for research teams to study the wreckage without too much difficulty. According to some researchers, the wreckage will eventually be buried in about 50 years by sedimentation from strong currents moving through the area.
Geological Features Defined
- Slumps - are clumps of waste material or consolidated material that move a short distant down a slope.
- Barchan Dunes - are arc-shaped sand ridges. The arc faces the opposite direction of the flow, underwater current in this case.
- Sand Ribbons and Sheets - they are long strips of sands surrounded by immovable gravels. These are formed by high velocity underwater currents.
- Mud Waves - wave-like patterns made on the ocean floor made from the slow movement of mud caused by underwater currents.
Geological Features of the Titanic Shipwreck Location
After the collision, the Titanic and its debris came to rest in the region of the North Atlantic Ocean where two major underwater currents converged. This region is near the continental shelf of Newfoundland called the Grand Banks. The water moving through the area originates from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream which flows northward along the eastern seaboard of the eastern United States. The second current of cold water called the Western Boundary Undercurrent starts around Greenland and Labrador flows southwesterly along the United States continental shelf. These currents are probably the reason why the debris from the sinking is scattered over such a large area, and furthermore, it fell for 2.5 miles. Also, the mixing of these currents is known to cause foggy conditions in this region of the Atlantic Ocean. Some investigators of the Titanic sinking believe it was low surface fog that may have made it impossible for nearby ships such as the Californian to get a visual on the doomed ship.
This region, off the Grand Banks beyond the continental shelf, is a very sandy region since these high-velocity currents move large quantities of sedimentation along the ocean floor. These high-velocity currents have created other geological features near the Titanic shipwreck. There are debris, slumps, barchan dunes, sand ribbons and sheets, and mud waves in the area. In time all traces of the Titanic will be buried by tons of sediments moving through the canyon two and a half miles down. The Titanic shipwreck sits south below Flemish Cap off the continental shelf (light blue area) in the photo above.
Also, this region beyond the continental shelf drops very quickly as you continue southeasterly from the Grand Banks to the Titanic shipwreck. If the collision had occurred about 100 miles closer to Newfoundland, the ship would have sunk on the continental shelf in less than 570 feet of water instead of in the deeper waters closer to the Northwest Atlantic Mid-Ocean Canyon. However, if the Titanic had sunk 100 miles south of its current shipwreck site, it would have been more than 3 miles down in a valley. The wreck probably would never have been found, or it would have taken longer for anyone to find it. The shipwreck is in a canyon surrounded by three low mountains on three sides each rising approximately 2,000 feet from the ocean floor. The mountain west of the site is 30 miles away. The second one is 20 miles south of it, and the closest one is 17 miles north of the site.
In 1991 several core samples were taken at the site by the Keldysh Research Expedition Team to study the composition of the sea floor around the shipwreck. Starting from the uppermost layer and moving deeper through the core sample five distinct layers were observed.
- Fine sand - the surface of the sea floor.
- Foram ooze - short for foraminiferal ooze. A layer of ooze consisting of microscopic, one-celled, marine organisms often called planktons. There 275,000 species of this organism.
- Thin Sand Bed - another layer of sand, but not fine in size.
- Mud with Gravel - this essentially mud with gravel mixed
- Shale Clasts - a layer consisting of fragments (clasts) of pre-existing minerals. The composition of fragments is generally weathered or eroded rocks from hydrothermal vents in the oceans.
The wreck of the Titanic is located in a very quiet spot as far as seismic activities are concerned. There has been only one major earthquake at a magnitude of 7.2 recorded near the site in the last 100 years. It occurred underwater near the Grand Banks on November 18, 1929, and the quake was called the Laurentian Slope earthquake because it occurred in the Laurentian Slope Seismic Zone south of Newfoundland. At that time it was believed that the shipwreck was buried by a large underwater landslide triggered by the earthquake and will never be discovered. However, that belief was disproved in 1985 when Dr. Ballard finally located the shipwreck. Since the site is a few hundred miles from the well-known mid-Atlantic ridge where the ocean floor is spreading apart, hundreds of earthquakes occur on a daily basis there, some as high as magnitude 5.0 are too far from the site to effect the Titanic shipwreck.
In the 100 years since the Titanic descended to its watery grave, it has managed to survive so long despite some of the geological forces and events that have occurred in the area. Time is not the only enemy of the Titanic, but nonetheless, it is the microscopic bacteria that is slowly consuming the steel structure of the ship and converting it to rust “icicles” which will eventually dissolve into the cold, dark water two and a half miles down.
© 2012 Melvin Porter