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A Second Titanic Disaster?

Just in case you missed the movie, the legendary ocean liner RMS Titanic--touted as "unsinkable"--met a tragic fate during its maiden voyage in 1912. On April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and sank to its watery grave 3,785 meters (2.4 miles) below the icy North Atlantic Ocean, killing 1,502 passengers.

Now scientists fear a second disaster: The sunken wreck is decaying rapidly and may collapse like an accordian within months--sealing the fate of hundreds of artifacts (historic objects) that include precious jewels and antiques.

Last August, RMS Titanic, Inc.--the only company authorized to retrieve Titanic artifacts--embarked on a $5 million expedition to salvage treasures from inside the ship's hull. "The clock is ticking," says company president Arnie Geller. "Ocean microbes will soon devour the ship's steel for all eternity." Using the 3-seat Russian submarine Mir-l, equipped with robotic arms, the company has already retrieved about 500 artifacts.

The Titanic has resisted erosion for nearly 80 years, so why its sudden demise? The bottom of the deep ocean is a hostile environment, explains Geller. Over time, man-made objects are consumed by bacteria (single-celled organisms), eroded by sediments (rock particles formed from debris), and corroded by salt and acids. Long icicle-like daggers made of rust--called "rusticles"--blanket the Titanic's massive steel bow (front section). Scientists estimate iron-eating bacteria have eaten nearly 20 percent of the bow.

Hungry microbes aren't the only cause of the Titanic's deep-sea destruction. At nearly 4 km below the sea surface, every square centimeter of the ship is subjected to 305 kilograms (4,338 pounds per square inch) of pressure, the force of seawater crushing the wreck's thick steel plates. Seawater is 800 times heavier than air!

Not everyone supports Geller's expedition. "I think the Titanic's main body should be left undisturbed," says Titanic historian Tarn Stephanos in Jamaica Plain, Mass. "The sunken wreck is a memorial to the tragic event."

What's your opinion: Should artifacts from the ill-fated ocean liner be retrieved and preserved in museums, or left to rust in peace?
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Title Annotation:erosion is destroying the ship
Author:Dyer, Nicole
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Oct 16, 2000
Words:341
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