Dr. Roy Cullimore: The 2004 Titanic Expedition
My responsibility when I got out to sea was to look at the way these steel ships are gradually falling apart, breaking apart and rusting. Rusting is the key word because I am not looking at rust as a chemical thing but as a microbial thing. Microorganisms are in there that are taking the iron out of the steel to build their community and homes, a place where they will live.
The biggest challenge at sea is that we are dealing with way down there in the deep ocean where the temperature is almost freezing, the salt concentration is saturated and if I were out there I wouldn’t survive a second. But the microbes and the fish and the crabs are all living in this environment and I’m fascinated by the fact that this is an extreme place to be living but they are all living there. I’m fascinated by the amount of variation of life that can occur.
For the 2004 Titanic Expedition I had the privilege of having dove to the ship three times in the submarine in 1996, 1998, and 2003. So I’ve seen the ship. It grabs you emotionally. It stimulates your curiosity and gets the science going to the point that I’ve put experiments down on the ship in 1996 and I’ve had experiments on the ship in 1998 that were still there in 2004 that we got to bring back. So we are developing real science. Science doesn’t happen in a shoebox. It doesn’t happen in a laboratory. It doesn’t happen over night. Real science is a scientific development. When I’m working with Titanic it is a beautiful challenge because the science there will go on for one hundred or two hundred years. I’m excited to be a part of that and a part of history. This expedition was a particular challenge because first of all the Titanic had gone through a growth of rusticles. These are the rusticles growing outside of the ship. Even more inside the ship we can only just see that they were growing much more rapidly between 1996 and 1998. Then in 2003 they were starting to drop away, and they are still dropping away. We have a life cycle and what we’re seeing is that the rusticles are going to come back again. So what is making them come back? This is opening up new horizons and new challenges and I’m hoping that we will be able to find value in the work that we are doing with these rusticles. We are from nature’s point of view recycling the iron. After all, we stole he iron from nature and we made the steel. We made a beautiful ship that tragically sank on its maiden voyage and now nature is slowly taking it back.