While the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 is usually blamed on construction flaws or human error by the captain and crew, a newly published study in the scientific journal Significance points to other factors.
Specifically,there were a greater number of icebergs than normal that year, and weather conditions had driven them further south, and earlier in the year, than was usual.
That’s particularly significant, because those conditions are happening again now, thanks to climate change. As the article’s authors point out, iceberg discharge from glaciers is increasing, with more heavy iceberg years since the 1980s than before, and increasing global warming will likely cause this trend to continue.
One of the co-authors, University of Sheffield geographer Grant Bigg, says: “As use of the Arctic increases in the future with declining sea-ice, and as polar ice sheets are increasingly losing mass as well, the iceberg risk is likely to increase in the future, rather than decline.”
A 2012 study by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland found that iceberg calving was occurring at a greater rate than any time since the 1930s. And icebergs are a bigger problem in some ways than they were in the days of the Titanic, because more ships are plying northern Atlantic waters now, according to AccuWeather.com. In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, spotters reported 370 icebergs, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s International Iceberg Patrol.
In 2013, British scientists reportedly tracked a massive iceberg the size of the nation of Singapore in the south Atlantic Ocean, out of worries that it would drift into shipping lanes.
Photo: Icebergs such as this one may present an increasing risk to ships. Credit: NOAA