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Dr. Roy Cullimore: Rusticles

What we did was recover two steel test platforms from the Titanic.  The first one was from the stern section just below the main engines.   The second one was from the port side.  In each case what happened was that we would go down to the site and the robot arm would come out, grab the platform, bring it up and then put it into a biological box which was on the side of the ROV.  Then the rig was closed down and the box went back into Hercules.  Then Hercules was brought back up onto the deck and then I go out and the biological box is opened.  When we opened the box it was quite weathered from the ocean and very salty water.  So we had to remove this very salty water out of the box and then the platform could be lifted up.  When we were at the 2004 Titanic we brought back two of the test platforms, one from the stern of the ship and one from the port side.  What we’ve done here is just project it with a plastic bag, which I have to cut open.  We’ve used lots of duct tape to protect the platform itself.  Once we’ve broken this open we can begin our work on the platform.  This is the float that enabled the Hercules ROV arm to grab the platform and lift it into the biological box.  Here is the information about the platform.  This was the one that was on the stern of the ship.  These are twisted, tempered, and hammered.

The top one here is a twisted… tempered… the next one is hammered… the next one is twisted and tempered…twisted.  So the difference in these two is that this one was heat-treated and if you look at the rusticle growth between these two there is very little difference.  The rusticles grew as happily on this one as they did on this one.  And then we come down to the next set of steels and we again see that we get the most growth on the twisted set of steels although it was tempered a lot.  So that means that on the Titanic, where the steel has been twisted, you can expect to see more rusticle growth.  And it is interesting that on the stern section of the ship, she came down much harder and she smacked into the ocean floor somewhere around fifty miles per hour and there was a lot of twisting of steel and they suspect that the rusticles began to grow.  It is also because this is where the refrigeration was which had the food.  We did some calculation in 1998 and it looks like about fifteen tons of carbohydrates, five tons of protein, and about four and a half tons of fat was there and available for the microbes as soon as the ship was on the floor.  So the first growth, not necessarily rusticles, but the first growth of microbes began there.  What is also fascinating is that last year in 2003, this rusticles did not exist.  This rusticle, which is about four inches long, grew between 2003 and 2004.  That’s at least a quarter of an inch a month.  The microorganisms or rusticles are able to capitalize on any electrical changes that occur between these individual steel coupons and this is an area of science, which is very new and very exciting and will keep us exploring.   At the Titanic site today we still have two of these platforms.  One of them is sitting right by the stern at the front of the ship and the other one is by the bow of the deck.  Those are still there for us to bring back.


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