Oceanographer talks about overcoming obstacles in search for Titan

With time running out, it's all hands on deck in the search for the Titan.
Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 10:48 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - With time running out, it’s all hands on deck in search of the Titan.

“We currently have five surface assets searching for the Titan, and we expect ten surface assets to search in the next 24-48 hours,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick.

But the assets by sea and air have to overcome numerous barriers to find the OceanGate submersible at all depths.

Atlanta News First spoke about the complications with physical oceanography expert Dr. Susan Lozier at Georgia Tech.

The Titan lost contact with its support ship nearly two hours into its dive, meaning it had not reached the bottom and could be affected by the powerful Gulf Stream current.

“The currents are intensified at the surface,” said Lozier, the Dean of the College of Sciences at Georgia Tech. “So, the Gulf Stream is intensified at the surface. But it can still be strong down to 1,000 meters or 1,500 meters.”

Lozier thinks that scenario is possible but unlikely due to the depth experts believe the submarine was at when it lost contact.

She says a more likely scenario--if the vessel is still intact--is it’s on the bottom. And at 4,000 meters, the best method to find the Titan is sonar.

“So, an acoustic signal is being sent out by these buoys they’re dropping, and when it encounters an object, it bounces back,” Lozier explained. “That’s how they’re trying to find it.

But even that is fraught with difficulty. If the Titan is near the Titanic, the metal debris around it can also reflect sound and inhibit the search.

Lozier then shows Atlanta News First a styrofoam cup crushed to the size of a thimble at 3,000 meters. If the vessel is nearly a thousand meters deeper at the bottom of the North Atlantic, how long can it deal with the almost 5,000 lbs per square inch of pressure?

“The number one threat is the oxygen, not the Titan suddenly imploding because of the pressure,” she said.

Then there’s the surface aspect of this search, which has now greatly expanded from its original size. The Gulf Stream has expanded the search area, and finding the Titan is not as simple as looking out on the horizon of a plane or vessel.

Once wave heights reach more than a few feet, the ocean creates “white caps”, making it very difficult to discern white or gray objects from the waves. That’s why emergency crafts are usually bright orange or yellow.

The Titan is white, which could blend in with the seas in a search area that’s now twice the size of Connecticut.