After the second annual Titanic dive series, CEO and founder of Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate says the deterioration of the world’s most famous shipwreck continues apace.
“We’ll have some better data next year, but it’s definitely in worse shape this year than it was last year,” OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush told GeekWire. “It passes its natural consumption by the ocean.”
Rush said the decay is particularly noticeable on the front railing of the sunken ship. Scientists on the Titanic research team should be able to get a better solution once they analyze scaled measurements made using a laser scanner attached to OceanGate’s Titan submarine.
Inspecting the remains of the Titanic on an annual basis is one of the primary missions for Titan, which was built to withstand the enormous pressures it faces nearly 4,000 meters (12,600 feet) below the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Maritime archaeologists say we may be nearing the end of the Titanic’s saga, which began with its fateful maiden voyage in 1912 and continued with its rediscovery in 1985. Recent research has documented how the once mighty luxury ship is turning into a rusty ruin. Studying the changes each year can shed light on the factors behind the accelerated deterioration.
Another primary goal is to categorize the deep-water habitat surrounding the ship. Rush expects to see some major biological discoveries come out of this year’s Titanic research.
“We have researchers at the University of Edinburgh, the University of North Carolina watching the video as we speak, looking at both species density and types,” Russ said. “I strongly suspect that they will find species that they cannot specifically identify. It’s a challenge to know if they’re new species unless you get the DNA.”
Fortunately, OceanGate Expeditions is working with a Canadian company called eDNAtec to collect and analyze water samples at the bottom of the ocean as well as at other levels of the sea, looking for traces of environmental DNA. The results could help scientists determine which types of species left behind their genetic signatures — including previously unknown species.
Rush said it is likely to take at least three months to complete the DNA analysis.
OceanGate team members and outside researchers weren’t the only ones taking trips on the Titanic: The company brought along a total of 21 mission experts who paid up to $250,000 to join the adventure.
Among those special missions were two astronauts previously aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket — Evan Dick and Dylan Taylor — as well as planetary scientist Alan Stern, who leads NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and Kuiper belt and is planned to its own suborbital space flight.
“It seems truly unreal that we have visited the Titanic, sometimes being as close as a foot or so to the ship,” Stern wrote in a blog post.
Other experts on the mission included artists from Canada’s First Nations, as well as a self-described “Titanic nut” who won a contest sponsored by Make-A-Wish Canada.
Rush, who served as the sub’s pilot, said OceanGate and its partners at Horizon Maritime made eight dives during a research period that ran from mid-June to late July. Teams went back and forth between St. John’s, Newfoundland, and the site of the Titanic wreck, about 370 miles away.
During last year’s mission, OceanGate encountered a number of technical problems. “This year, our challenges were a lot more related to weather and operational challenges, new team members, new processes and the like,” Russ said. “Things are getting smoother. I wouldn’t say easier, but it was more predictable.”
Rush and his teammates are already thinking about the 2023 mission. “We’re trying to do the mission a little earlier — we’ll start in mid-May and be done by the end of June,” he said. “And we’re going to have a different ship, so we have a lot of work to do to qualify that ship and get it ready.”
It is also looking for targets beyond the Titanic. “We might do something in the Azores,” Russ said. “That would be very interesting. I’ve always wanted to do hydrothermal vents.”
Here are some of the best moments from this year’s Titanic on Twitter: