The Titanic is coming back to life, but not in the romantic way we've been seeing in movie theaters.
According to Professor Roy Cullimore from the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, the Titanic is alive today, but not with people. The Titanic, he says, is alive with life forms feeding off the iron in its hull. The microbes are tiny, but there are so many that every day they convert roughly a tenth of a ton of the ship's iron into their own body mass.If you saw the movie "Titanic," or if you saw any of the images of its hull resting on the ocean floor, you saw the visible traces of these life forms. The bacteria and other microbes that feed off the Titanic congregate into structures that resemble icicles. Because these "icicles" are rust colored and contain iron, scientists named the formations "rusticles."
When people first saw images of rusticles on the Titanic back in 1985, no one realized that they contained living organisms. People looking at the images assumed that the rusticles were simply mineral formations, perhaps something like the stalactites that form in caves. To the observers, the rusticles were little more than a nuisance that obscured their view of the ship.
In 1996, however, Cullimore descended the 2.4 miles to the ocean floor and brought up samples of rusticles. Back in his laboratory, he analyzed, cultured and studied them. The rusticles, he learned, contained complex life forms that had flourished at depths where most people assumed life was impossible. Who would imagine that any form of life could endure the 6,000 pounds per square inch (psi) pressure found at those depths? (To get a feeling for how awesome such pressures are, consider that a mere 200 psi would crumble the Golden Gate Bridge.
Unlike most people, the discovery didn't surprise Cullimore. As a microbiologist, he knew that bacteria regularly survive 8,000 psi during the homogenization of milk. He knew that for the right kind of microbes, pressures of 6,000 psi would hardly be a challenge.
But knowing that the microbes can survive at this pressure is one thing. Figuring out how they got there is another. Cullimore believes some of them almost certainly arrived as tiny passengers aboard the ship as it went down. For example, many of them must have been in the ship's sewage collection and holding tanks. Other microbes would have come as a part of the "sea snow" that you can see in videos as it constantly falls on the Titanic. Sea snow is made up of small amounts of living microbes, mixed with the microscopic sea life that has died and is floating toward the bottom of the ocean.