A schematic of where the Costa Concordia sits on the sea floor.
Nearly two months since the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy, clean-up crews are still puzzling over what to do with the gigantic wreck. And gigantic it is—with a gross tonnage of 112,000, the Costa Concordia is twice the size of the Titantic.
The immediate concern was oil, 500,000 toxic gallons of it, that could gush into the Mediterranean. Since February 12, the Dutch film Smit has been vacuuming out fuel using a system of pumps and valves. Their work is especially tricky because the wrecked ship sits on the edge of a 200-foot underwater drop-off, and any disturbances can easily push it over. So to minimize the risk of destabilizing the ship while moving 500,000 gallons of oil out of it, Smit is pumping in seawater as it pumps out oil.
Once the fuel is all extracted, crews salvaging the actual ship will have to contend with the precipitous problem too. The cruise’s parent company recently invited 10 firms to bid on the clean-up operation. Charles Choi at Scientific American talked to some experts about possible solutions.
What’s the news: Viking legend has it that sailors could hold up crystal sunstones to the sky to help them find their way. Turns out the legend could be true. In a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team of researchers found that a type of crystal called an Icelandic spar commonly found in that country could accurately reveal the position of the sun in cloudy or near-dark conditions. Read More
The name Titanic means so many things: the gigantic, disastrous ship; a record-breaking and award-winning movie; and now, a new iron-eating bacterium found in the boat’s underwater grave. Says maritime historian Dan Conlin:
“What is fascinating to me is that we tend to have this idea that these wrecks are time capsules frozen in time, when in fact there [are] all kinds of complex ecosystems feeding off them, even at the bottom of that great dark ocean.” [Our Amazing Planet]
The new species of bacteria, named Halomonas titanicae, is described in this month’s International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology. The bacteria is slowing eating away at the 50,000 tons of iron in the wreck, which has been under the ocean for 98 years. H. titanicae appears to digest iron and turns it into knobs of corrosion products.
According to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, chivalry just depends on how much time you’ve got.
That was the conclusion Benno Torgler and colleagues arrived at by studying two of history’s most famous shipwrecks: The Titanic, where social norms seem to have prevailed and women and children had a better chance of surviving, and the Lusitania, where they did not. The rapid sinking of the Lusitania appears to have triggered the selfish instinct for survival in its passengers, while the slow sinking of the Titanic may have allowed altruism to reemerge.
More than 1,500 people died when the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912 and sank over the course of three hours in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. In their analysis, the researchers studied passenger and survivor lists from both ships, and considered gender, age, ticket class, nationality and familial relationships with other passengers. The differences emerged after a closer look at the survival rates [The New York Times]. Children aboard the Titanic, researchers say, were about 15 percent more likely to survive than adults, and women had more than a 50 percent better chance than men to make it out alive.
At the bottom of the Baltic Sea, history sits largely intact. Because shipworms don’t care for these cold, low-salt waters, shipwrecks can endure for centuries without great decay. The Vasa, a famous Swedish warship that sank in Stockholm harbor in 1628, was in terrific condition when engineers raised it from the depths more than 300 years later. But, scientists now warn, those conditions could be coming to an end due to global warming.
Shipworms, which can obliterate a wreck in ten years, have already attacked about a hundred sunken vessels dating back to the 13th century in Baltic waters off Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, reported study co-author Christin Appelqvist [National Geographic News]. Now, Appelqvist says, their range is beginning to extend beyond those areas into the northern part of the Baltic. That could threaten close to 100,000 shipwrecks scattered across the bottom of the sea.
Americans scientists have rediscovered the remains of two advanced Japanese submarines from World War II, buried in the waters off Hawaii. But these shipwrecks, the I-14 and I-201, aren’t relics of a great Pacific Theater battle. Rather, the U.S. captured and then sank them on purpose, along with three others Japanese ships including the gargantuan I-401, which was found back in 2005.
The I-401, along with the I-14 and I-201, were captured at war’s end and sailed to Hawaii, where US naval intelligence officers could plumb the ships’ secrets…. All were scuttled to avoid having to share the information with the Pacific war’s late-comer and co-claimant to such prizes, the former Soviet Union [Christian Science Monitor].