Home » Why choose a UK education? » Discover, create, innovate! » Iceberg danger 'greater than at the time of the Titanic'

Iceberg danger 'greater than at the time of the Titanic'

© Dr Julie Jones

10 April 2014

It was the unluckiest timing for the Titanic... the great ship set sail on its maiden voyage 102 years ago today – and sank five days later after hitting an iceberg in the freezing North Atlantic. Who could have guessed that 2014 would be an exceptionally bad year for icebergs?

Wait a moment – 2014? Don’t you mean 1912?

Not according to UK scientists – who say the risk of icebergs is actually greater now than it was when the Titanic sank, killing 1,517 people and leaving only 700 survivors.

Academics at the University of Sheffield say they have disproven the long-held theory that lunar and solar activity made 1912 a particularly bad year for icebergs.  

Their findings could be crucial for monitoring ocean safety as ice levels continue to shrink in the Arctic.

Using data on iceberg locations dating back to 1913 – recorded to help prevent a repeat of the Titanic disaster – researchers showed that 1912 was a significant ice year, but not extreme.  

Professor Grant Bigg, who led the research, said: ‘We have seen that 1912 was a year of raised iceberg hazard, but not exceptionally so in the long term.

‘More recently the risk has been much greater – between 1991 and 2000, eight of the 10 years recorded more than 700 icebergs and five exceeded the 1912 total.’

He warned that ice hazards were likely to increase in shipping waters, as more stretches of the Arctic open up due to melting ice caps.

‘As polar ice sheets are increasingly losing mass as well, the iceberg risk is likely to increase in the future, rather than decline,’ he said.

The iceberg which sank the Titanic was spotted just before midnight on 14 April 1912, 500 metres away. Despite quick action to slow the ship, it wasn’t enough and the ship sank in just two and a half hours.

Want to get involved in scientific studies like these? Click here to read about science in the UK or find out about geography courses – or use the Search tool at the top of this page to browse pre-university, undergraduate and postgraduate courses in science and geography.