The wreck of RMS Titanic was discovered on 1 September 1985, more than 73 years after its sinking on 15 April 1912, south of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic ocean, by a joint American-French expedition, led by oceanographer Jean-Louis Michel (Ifremer) and Dr. Robert Ballard (WHOI). The most notable discovery the team made was that the ship had split apart. There had been conflicting witness accounts of whether the ship broke apart or not; up until the discovery of the wreck, it was generally assumed that the ship went down in one piece.
Discovery of the wreckEdit
The idea of finding the wreck of Titanic, and even raising the ship from the ocean floor, had been around since shortly after the ship sank. No attempts were successful until 1 September 1985, when a joint American-French expedition, led by Jean-Louis Michel (Ifremer) and Dr. Robert Ballard (WHOI), located the wreck using the side-scan sonar from the research vessels Knorr and Le Suroit. In June 1985, the French ship Le Suroit began systematically crossing the 150-square-mile (390 km2) target zone with her deep-search sonar. Le Suroit covered 80 percent of the zone, leaving only 20 percent for the American ship Knorr. The wreck was found at a depth of 2.5 miles (4 km), slightly more than 370 miles (600 km) south-east of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland at 41°43′55″N 49°56′45″W / 41.73194°N 49.94583°W / 41.73194; -49.94583Coordinates: 41°43′55″N 49°56′45″W / 41.73194°N 49.94583°W / 41.73194; -49.94583, 13 miles (21 km) from fourth officer Joseph Boxhall's last position reading where Titanic was originally thought to rest. Ballard noted that his crew had paid out 12,500 feet (3,810 m) of the sonar's tow cable at the time of the discovery of the wreck, giving an approximate depth of the seabed of 12,450 feet (3,795 m). Ifremer, the French partner in the search, records a depth of 3,800 m (12,467 ft), an almost exact equivalent. These are approximately 2.33 miles (3.75 km), and they are often rounded upwards to 2.5 miles (4.0 km) or 4 km. Video cameras aboard the unmanned submersible Argo were the first to document Titanic's visual state on the bottom of the ocean. The submersible was based on Knorr and the images retrieved were featured in National Geographic by December 1985. In 1986, Ballard returned to the wreck site aboard Atlantis II to conduct the first manned dives to the wreck in the submersible Alvin. Ballard had in 1982 requested funding for the project from the US Navy, but this was provided only on the then secret condition that the first priority was to examine the wreckage of the sunken US nuclear submarines Thresher and Scorpion. Only when these had been photographed did the search for Titanic begin.
Split in twoEdit
The most notable discovery the team made was that the ship had split apart, the stern section lying 1,970 feet (600 m) from the bow section and facing opposite directions. There had been conflicting witness accounts of whether the ship broke apart or not, and both the American and British inquiries found that the ship sank intact. Up until the discovery of the wreck, it was generally assumed that the ship did not break apart.
The bow section had struck the ocean floor at a position just under the forepeak, and embedded itself 60 feet (18 m) into the silt on the ocean floor. Although parts of the hull had buckled, the bow was mostly intact. The collision with the ocean floor forced water out of Titanic through the hull below the well deck. One of the steel covers (reportedly weighing approximately ten tonnes) was blown off the side of the hull. The bow is still under tension, in particular the heavily damaged and partially collapsed decks.The stern section was in much worse condition, and appeared to have been torn apart during its descent. Unlike the bow section, which was flooded with water before it sank, it is likely that the stern section sank with a significant volume of air trapped inside it. As it sank, the external water pressure increased but the pressure of the trapped air could not follow suit due to the many air pockets in relatively sealed sections. Therefore, some areas of the stern section's hull experienced a large pressure differential between outside and inside which possibly caused an implosion. Further damage was caused by the sudden impact of hitting the seabed; with little structural integrity left, the decks collapsed as the stern hit.
The immediate surroundings and artefactsEdit
Surrounding the wreck is a large debris field with pieces of the ship, furniture, dinnerware and personal items scattered over 2 square miles (5.2 km2). Organic materials decompose in sea water although paper, cloth, and leather were later conserved from the Titanic's debris field.
Dr. Ballard and his team did not bring up any artefacts from the site, considering this to be tantamount to grave robbing. Under international maritime law, however, the recovery of artefacts is necessary to establish salvage rights to a shipwreck. In the years after the find, Titanic has been the object of a number of court cases concerning ownership of artefacts and the wreck site itself. In 1994, RMS Titanic Inc. was awarded ownership and salvaging rights of the wreck, even though RMS Titanic Inc. and other salvaging expeditions have been criticised for taking items from the wreck. Among the items recovered by RMS Titanic Inc. was the ship's whistle, which was brought to the surface in 1992 and placed in the company's travelling exhibition. It was operated for the public in 1999 using compressed air rather than steam because of its fragility.
Approximately 5,500 artefacts have been removed from the wreck. Many of these were put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, and later as part of a travelling museum exhibit. The Merseyside Maritime Museum in the Titanic's home port of Liverpool also has an extensive collection of artefacts from the wreck located within a permanent exhibition named 'Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress'.
Current condition of the wreckEditMany scientists, including Robert Ballard, are concerned that visits by tourists in submersibles and the recovery of artifacts are hastening the decay of the wreck. Underwater microbes have been eating away at Titanic's steel since the ship sank, but because of the extra damage caused by visitors the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that "the hull and structure of the ship may collapse to the ocean floor within the next 50 years."
Ballard's book Return to Titanic, published by the National Geographic Society, includes photographs depicting the deterioration of the promenade deck and damage caused by submersibles landing on the ship. The mast has almost completely deteriorated and has been stripped of its bell and brass light. Other damage includes a gash on the bow section where block letters once spelled Titanic, part of the brass telemotor which once held the ship's wooden wheel is now twisted and the crow's nest has completely deteriorated.