If the Titanic was sailing to New York, how did it hit an iceberg at such latitude?

I'm assuming by "How did it hit an iceberg at such latitude", you're wondering why Titanic was so far north of New York when she sank. Titanic was following what was then the standard track for ocean liners bound for New York from the United Kingdom. There were four major segments to this track:

  • Departing from Queesntown (now Cobh) Ireland, she followed the Irish coast to a point adjacent to Fastnet Light (Fastnet Rock - Wikipedia).
  • At Fastnet Light, she would begin the first leg of a Great Circle (Great-circle navigation - Wikipedia) bound for a point in the middle of the North Atlantic called "The Corner", at 42°N 47°W. Keeping a great circle course required regular adjustments to the ship's heading in order to stay close to the track; in Titanic's case minor adjustments were probably made every 5–7 hours, or about every 125 miles.
  • At "The Corner" she would turn to a straight line course aiming to pass close by the Nantucket Shoals Light Ship (Lightship Nantucket - Wikipedia) This course would be slightly south of due west, about 265°. As an interesting side note, this light vessel was struck and sank by Olympic, Titanic's older sister, in 1934.
  • Finally, she would adjust course a final time to to reach the Ambrose Light Ship (Lightship Ambrose - Wikipedia) which marked the entrance to New York Harbour.

Drawn out, this is what the route looks like (Credit goes to Sam Halpern, from his article Keeping Track of a Maiden Voyage):


The winter of 1911-1912 was significantly warmer than usual for the Arctic Circle. A consequence of this was a much higher level of ice calving along the coasts of Baffin Island and Greenland far north from the point where Titanic collided with the iceberg to the east of Newfoundland on the night of April 14, 1912. While warmer temperatures earlier in the winter months were responsible for the higher volume of icebergs seen that spring in the North Atlantic, on the night of April 14th a strong arctic cold front extended the Labrador Current much further south, well into the transatlantic shipping lanes. (The Labrador Current is a naturally occurring southeasterly flow of ocean water at the opening of Baffin Bay into the North Atlantic which is the point of origin for most icebergs found in the North Atlantic.)

Under normal circumstances the volume of icebergs to the east of Newfoundland Island are far lower than was the case on the night of April 14th and those that do make it down to this latitude have experienced significant melting making them smaller ice hazards in general. Ordinarily an iceberg's journey south is impeded to an extent by the counteracting flow of the Gulfstream's clockwise motion juxtapose to the southerly flow of the Labrador Current. On April the 14th and for a few days prior the Labrador Current was more dominant due to a strong arctic cold front which enabled a high volume of large icebergs to travel much further south experiencing less melting in the process. This same cold front also caused the weird atmospheric visual phenomena described by many veterans of the sea which likely played optical tricks on Titanic's watchmen stationed in the crows-nest spotting the berg too late for Titanic to avoid collision. and the rest is history.

LABRADOR CURRENT UNDER NORMAL CONDITIONS


Icebergs float south in the Humboldt stream,and Melton their way. The ship hit the iceberg near the Newfoundland banks. (Ships use large circle navigation,not straight line sailing).


If the Titanic was sailing to New York, how did it hit an iceberg at such latitude?

Most likely, because it was following a Great circle - Wikipedia route, rather than a Rhumb line - Wikipedia

If you go to Great Circle Mapper, I asked it to map SOU-LGA, as a reasonable proxy for Southampton to New York. If you look at the resulting map, you'll see that it goes quite a bit north, and explains why Halifax was the place where the dead were taken.


It didn't.


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