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Oceanographers learn about the seafloor and seawater using different technologies.

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A Titanic Undertaking

A Titanic Undertaking

Credit: NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Titanic_wreck_bow.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

For more than 70 years, the RMS Titanic sat on the seafloor. No one could find the famous ship. But with their guts, scientific smarts, and no small amount of luck, scientists located her.

How Did They Find the Titanic?

  • You’ve probably heard the story. You may even have seen the movie. Disaster struck the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage. On April 15, 1912, at 11:40 pm, the elegant ocean liner collided with an iceberg. The ship’s hull fractured. Supposedly unsinkable, the Titanic did not have enough lifeboats. Some of the early lifeboats had left the ship partly empty. When the vessel broke apart at 2:20 AM, 1,500 souls plunged into the frigid northern Atlantic Ocean. Some of the world’s wealthiest people and hundreds of poor emigrants sank into an ocean grave.
  • For decades no one knew where the Titanic was, but many people wanted to find her. How could it be done? Scientists had tried echo sounding (sonar), but was like looking for a needle in a haystack. In 1985, two scientists, Dr. Robert Ballard and Dr. Jean-Louis Michel, led a research expedition that tried a new strategy. Argo, a deep-sea vehicle, was towed behind the ship about 2.5 miles below the sea surface. The little vehicle found the long-lost wreck. When Dr. Ballard returned to the Titanic a year later, he sat in the Alvin submersible on the deck. Navigating down the ship’s interior was Jason Junior. “JJ” was a remotely-operated vehicle designed to explore the Titanic.
  • Credit: NOAA
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ALVIN_submersible.jpg
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    ALVIN, a remotely operated vehicle, took people on an underwater expedition to the Titanic shipwreck in 1987 [Figure2]

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With the links below, learn more about how the Ballard/Michel expedition to find the Titanic. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How did Dr. Ballard secure funding for his expedition to find the Titanic?
  2. What did Ballard learn from his earlier studies that increased his chances of finding the Titanic?
  3. What is the value of using a remotely operated vehicle like Jason Junior? Why didn’t Ballard go down the spiral staircase himself in Alvin?
  4. Should anyone who can get to the bottom of the ocean be allowed to visit the wreck? What should happen with the artifacts that sank with the vessel?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Titanic_wreck_bow.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: NOAA; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ALVIN_submersible.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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