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High tides and the Titanic


Andrew Yee, astronomer
March 11, 2012 — This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and in the April issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine, it's suggests that a full moon and a higher-than-normal tide may have had something to do with it.


The migration patterns of icebergs
The migration patterns of icebergs

On January 4, 1912 the full moon was at its closest point to the earth in almost 1,500 years. This happened a day after the earth made its annual trip to the closest point near the sun.

The combined gravitational effect of these two occurrences was 74% greater than when an average full moon occurs.

This created an incredibly high tide, which can lead to the creation of new icebergs.

Icebergs are likely to become stranded in shallow water or deposited on shore during a high tide.

The night of the Titanic disaster, the sky was surprisingly clear and calm
The night of the Titanic disaster, the sky was surprisingly clear and calm

But according to Sky & Telescope magazine, the high tide on the evening of January 4, 1912 may have sent the stranded icebergs into the Labrador current, allowing them to continue their southward journey. The Titanic may have hit one of these re-float icebergs.

The night of the Titanic disaster, the sky was surprisingly clear and calm.

What's unusual though, is that the ship was situated in the Grand Banks - an area where clear weather is uncommon, because when the cold Labrador current meets the warm north Atlantic current, the water temperature difference could reach 20C and cause a thick fog to form.

Little moonlight - and a calm sea - made it difficult for people aboard the Titanic to monitor icebergs.

The following morning, the survivors were able to see ice fields in the water, as well as the distant iceberg, but the unsinkable ship was no more.

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