Titanic sinking, 100 year anniversary April 15th 2012.
Posted 09 March 2012 - 11:32
One of the things, weatherwise that sticks in my mind, is the stillness of the air and the calmness of the sea, such that the waves breaking along the base of the iceberg allowed the berg itself to become invisible for the lookouts. Also, there was the cold, not only of the water, but of the air too. Looking on the remastered GFS products, looks like the impact of the iceberg happened on the northern side of a shallow area of low pressure, in the area where the winds were flat calm.
Posted 09 March 2012 - 12:16
For example, an article from the Chicago Tribune describing the conditions on the night and the possible reason for the ice danger: http://www.encyclope...lear-night.html
“The great glaring fact, as given by Donald Sutherland, the wireless operator of the Parisian, was his unqualified statement that the night of the disaster judged from the position of the Parisian, which he estimated to have been about fifty miles southwest of the Titanic at the time it struck, the weather was remarkably clear. In all the course through the day no fog had been encountered.
“The night was so clear,” said Sutherland, “that the Parisian’s lookout several times mistook stars on the horizon for ship’s lights. You have seen beautifully clear winter nights when you went skating and it seemed just like day. It was just such a night. You could have played a game of football.
Sent Repeated Warnings
And, what is more, Sutherland says that from his instrument through most of the evening he was sending out warnings to other ships as to the unusual condition of ice floes in the in the usual winter course of Atlantic travelers.
All navigators agree that the condition was unusual, that constant northeasterly gales had driven ice hundreds of miles further south than is usually to be expected at this time of the year.
Usually the greatest danger from derelict bergs is to be found in May and June and even as late as July in the transatlantic avenue in which the Titanic was passing.
Sutherland says that while he has no positive information he is sure the warnings that he and other wireless operators sent out must have reached the Titanic. He said: “On Sunday, the 14th, I was at my instrument until 10 o’clock at night. The Mesaba of the Atlantic Transport line was ahead of us. The Californian was about fifty miles in our rear and the Titanic was following the Californian at a distance, I judge, of 75 to 100 miles. The Mesaba was passing me warning messages about the unusual icy condition of the course and warned me of the presence of big bergs. I passed the information to the Californian. I sent this message repeatedly: ‘Running into ice—very thick—and big bergs.’
Californian Relayed Message.
“I assumed, although I do not know, for I did not talk directly to the Titanic, that the Californian passed to the Titanic the messages I had sent and which I had myself previously received from the Mesaba.
“I felt my instrument at exactly 10 o’clock. I was ordered to do so by Capt. Haines because I had been up many hours in an effort to get a ship to go to the aid of the tank steamship Deutschland, which I had heard was in distress.
“I received a query on the night of the disaster from Capt Haddock of the Olympic the Titanic’s sister ship traveling east as to the condition of the ice, and I sent to him the same message that I had relayed from the Mesaba to the Californian, and that, of the Titanic: ‘Running into ice—very thick—and big bergs.’
Chicago Tribune, Thursday, April 18, 1912, p. 2, c. 7
It's also notable how much shipping was lost in the N Atlantic in the first part of that year (from a discussion thread post):
May 7, 1912, p. 10:
MARINE LOSSES OF 1912 BREAK RECORD
Present Year Will Go Down in History as Most Disastrous Ever Known to Ocean Going Vessels.
TITANIC WRECKS [sic] ADDS CLIMAX TO LONG LIST
Thirteen Ships Lost in January, Twelve in February and Twenty-Two in March -- Five Now Overdue.
Posted 09 March 2012 - 12:27
This is interesting. Just having a flick back through the remastered charts, does indeed reveal a number of episodes of deep low pressures lying mid Atlantic, such that strong northeasterly winds of great fetch affected the area around the sinking in the months previous.
Posted 09 March 2012 - 13:22
However, it was a cold night just before bad weather (experienced by Carpathia enroute New York). I have often noted that a mirage called "towering" is common at such times. It is caused by atmospheric conditions.
"Ice blink" is another optical illusion seen only in arctic areas that also requires similar atmospheric conditions. Ice blink is light reflected off thin fog common over large patches of ice.
Curiously, both of these phenomena were recorded by Californian at 1021 when that ship ran into the same field of ice that claimed Titanic. These optical illusions may also explain why Californian spotted Titanic so much earlier than Titanic noted Californian.
I theorize that these two phenomena combined to form an optical illuison on the horizon that the lookouts described as "haze." The iceberg was in front of the field of ice, so appeared as a dark spot in the haze. As Fleet described its first appearance, "a dark mass."
With a nod toward George Behe, I believe the lookouts and Murdoch both saw the dark spot against the haze. In other words, the mis-perceived the truth until Titanic was up on the berg. However, from Fleet's testimony and later conversations with other authors, I believe that the "dark mass" was spotted and reported to the bridge up to 8 minutes prior to the accident.
Based on what the rescue ships reported at first light, Titanic had to have been dodging ice for some time prior to the accident. (Remember Rostron's dash in Carpathia.) My supposition is that Murdoch correctly realized there was field ice ahead, but took the dark spot to be an opening. This would have been an easy mistake for someone who had been looking for dark water around the lighter shapes of floating ice all during his watch. So, Titanic was steered straight at the iceberg until that sudden realization..."Iceberg Right Ahead!"
Other survivors made reference to this "blue" or "black mass" (but definitely not white), and some since have suggested this is caused by "rollover" of icebergs due to melt changing their mass distribution, which I'd imagine was likely given the position on the northern edge of the gulf stream.
Posted 09 March 2012 - 16:54
Carpathia took three days to reach New York after leaving the scene of the disaster. Her journey was slowed by pack ice, fog, thunderstorms and rough seas.2
Posted 09 March 2012 - 17:41
Essentially, icebergs generally get grounded for a year or two, (this happens now apparently to most of them) and eventually get re-floated by the high tides.
In January of that year, there were exceptionally high tides due to the fact that the Earth was at its closest point to the sun, the moon was at it's closest point to the Earth, and the three were in a line. These tide levels aren't due for another two hundred years or so. Anyway, the unusually high tides will likely have floated many more than usual icebergs (for a particular year).
The study's probably findable on the web, and SIA podcast is available from
Posted 13 March 2012 - 10:56
There are two similar documents from both, pertaining to weather conditions and radio warnings of icebergs:
Also, a link to a website from another author of a book on the subject, George Behe, pertaining to the possibility that excellent visibility gave the lookouts too much confidence in their ability to spot icebergs. Indeed, the Carpathia's Captain himself didn't see an iceberg until within a quarter of a mile at 4am:
Posted 14 April 2012 - 12:01
Among the fascinating information is the last met observation made at 01:30 on the morning of the 15th April when the air temperature was 0*C and the sea surface temperature was said to have been -0.5*C.