Nature conspired to sink Titanic?


What doomed the Titanic is well known, at least in outline. On a moonless night in the North Atlantic, the liner hit an iceberg and disaster ensued, with 1,500 lives lost.

    Hundreds of books, studies and official inquiries have addressed the deeper question of how a ship that was so costly and so well built — a ship declared to be unsinkable — could have ended so terribly. The theories vary widely, placing the blame on everything from inept sailors to flawed rivets.

    A century after the liner went down in the early hours of April 15, 1912, two new studies argue that rare states of nature played major roles in the catastrophe.

    The first says Earth’s nearness to the Moon and the Sun — a proximity not matched in more than 1,000 years — resulted in record tides that help explain why the Titanic encountered so much ice, including the fatal iceberg.

    And a second, put forward by a Titanic historian from Britain, contends that the icy waters created ideal conditions for an unusual type of mirage that hid icebergs from lookouts and confused a nearby ship as to the liner’s identity, delaying rescue efforts for hours.

    The author, Tim Maltin, said his explanation helps remove the stain of blunder from what he regards as a tragedy.

    From the start, reports and inquiries said that the ice in the North Atlantic was unusually bad that year. The New York Times, in an article shortly after the sinking, quoted US officials as saying that the winter had produced “an enormously large crop of icebergs.”

    Recently, a team of researchers from Texas State University-San Marcos and Sky & Telescope magazine found an apparent explanation in the heavens.

    The team discovered that Earth had come unusually close to the Sun and Moon that winter, enhancing their gravitational pulls on the ocean and producing record tides. The rare orbits took place between December 1911 and February 1912 .

    The researchers suggest that the high tides refloated masses of icebergs traditionally stuck along the coastlines of Labrador and Newfoundland and sent them adrift into the North Atlantic shipping lanes. NYT NEWS SERVICE