In less than 30 years, there may be nothing left of the Titanic but a heap of “rusticles,” warns researcher Henrietta Mann, who has spent four years researching bacteria gnawing on its sunken hull.
A scientific expedition in 1991 to the disintegrating wreck some 12,400 feet (3,780 meters) to the ocean floor revealed the formation of rust similar to icicles or stalactites in appearance hanging off the massive ship. They normally occur underwater when wrought iron oxidizes.
Mann, a biologist and geologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, obtained samples from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and scrutinized them under an electronic microscope. She discovered that bacteria, not a chemical process, were behind these particular deep water formations.
The Canadian researcher identified dozens of bacteria, including one never seen before, which she dubbed Halomonas Titanicae, that had been “munching” on the steel hull and busily transforming it, atom by atom, into rusticles, some as tall as men.
Invisible to the naked eye, measuring only 1.6 micrometers in length, the bacteria have multiplied into billions over the years.