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Return to the Titanic: gash is dashed.

Return to the Titanic: Gash is dashed

Scientists who recently returned to the wreckage of the Titanic (SN:7/19/86, p.37) found no evidence in the luxury liner's hull of an immense gash long thought to have been the result of a fatal collision with an iceberg. Instead, it appears that the hull's steel plates buckled, popped their rivets and separated from adjoining plates in the region where the gash was supposed to be; this allowed water to seep in and sink the ship.

"We saw absolutely no evidence of a large gash in the starboard side [of the bow],' said expedition leader Robert D. Ballard at a press conference at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., last week. Plate separation on the hull, he added, fits into survivors' accounts that at first they were unaware an accident had occurred. "Rivets could pop without much notice,' explained Ballard.

The scientists also took a closer look at the ship's stern, which lay 2,000 feet away from the bow section. This area, where many passengers assembled as the vessel sank, "was a carnage of debris,' said Ballard. It was twisted so that it faced the same direction as the bow and much of the inside ribbing of the hull was exposed, perhaps peeled away by increasing water pressure as the Titanic headed for its grave. The remains of the stern were too damaged to permit safe exploration inside.

The two halves of the liner separated soon after the iceberg collision, according to Ballard, but it is not possible to tell if the ship broke while still on the surface.

The hull and other steel objects were heavily rusted and in some places covered by what Ballard calls "rusticles.' Extensive wooden areas of the ship and other organic material were almost completely disintegrated, but copper, brass, glass and ceramic artifacts were beautifully preserved.

Salvage operations appear to be out of the question, said Ballard. Both the stern and the bow hit the ocean floor with a great impact that created sizable craters, and the two sections are now embedded in sediment. In addition, according to the researchers, artifacts strewn throughout the field of debris are mostly from the third-class section and not of great value.

"I don't see the economics of a salvage operation,' said Ballard. "The Titanic is protecting itself.'

The chief purpose of returning to the Titanic was to test a new, remote-controlled video camera called Jason Jr., which was tethered to the three-man submersible vehicle known as Alvin. With its 12 cameras and other imaging devices, Alvin spent a total of 33 hours exploring the ship on 11 dives. The lawnmower-size Jason Jr. was released four times from its nest on Alvin's bow, and on three dives it took photographs inside the Titanic. Though the robot suffered a number of mechanical problems at the 12,500-foot depth of the sunken vessel, the scientific team, which operated out of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, returned with hours of videotape and 57,000 still photographs.

The scientists hope to assemble about 100 photographs into a mosaic of the 882-foot-long Titanic. In the darkness of the ocean floor, the whole wreck cannot be viewed at once. Said Ballard, "It's like you're in a forest at night with a flashlight, and you look up at a sequoia tree and say, "Great bark.''

Photo: Alvin, with Jason Jr. on its bow, is lowered into the ocean (left). Bollards, used to secure mooring lines, and a railing on Titanic's bow (right).
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 9, 1986
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