The wreck of the Titanic is deteriorating faster than previously thought due to metal-eating bacteria, salt corrosion and deep currents.
The first expedition in 14 years to the wreck, which lies 3,800 metres down in the North Atlantic Ocean, revealed that the hull has started to collapse, while the officers’ quarters, where the captain stayed, are also showing severe signs of deterioration.
"The most shocking area of deterioration was the starboard side of the officers' quarters, where the captain's quarters were," said Titanic expert Parks Stephenson, who was part of the expedition. "The captain's bath tub is a favourite image among Titanic enthusiasts, and that's now gone. That whole deck hole on that side is collapsing taking with it the staterooms, and the deterioration is going to continue advancing."
One of the scientists on the expedition, Lori Johnson, added: “The future of the wreck is going to continue to deteriorate over time, it’s a natural process. These are natural types of bacteria, so the reason that the deterioration process ends up being quite a bit faster, is a group of bacteria, a community working symbiotically to eat, if you will, the iron and the sulphur.”
The expedition to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean took place in early August. It was headed by expedition leader Rob McCallum, Stephenson and Victor Vescovo, the billionaire explorer who in April became the first person to reach the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest point on the planet.
"It's a big wreck, I wasn't quite prepared for how large it was," said Vescovo. "It was extraordinary to see it all, and the most amazing moment came when I was going along the side of the Titanic and the bright lights of the submersible reflected off a portal and came right back, it was like the ship was winking at me. It was amazing."
A total of five dives were made over eight days and the team filmed the wreck for the first time in 4K resolution. The dives took place in a 4.6m-long, 3.7m-high submersible.
They also performed photogrammetry passes – the extraction of three-dimensional elements from images – on the wreck, which will allow accurate 3D models of the Titanic to be produced, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality films about the ship.
Footage from these dives will be released in a forthcoming documentary by Atlantic Productions.
The Titanic sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. More than 1,500 people died.