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Research on the Rusticles and the Life Span of the RMS Titanic

In 1996, as a part of the RMS Titanic Inc., Discovery channel expedition, research was begun into determining the importance of the rusticles growing all over the ship. These rusticles contain a lot of iron, up to 36%, and if this iron comes from the steel of the ship herself, how long will the ship have left before becoming weakened by the activities of these rusticles?.

What are rusticles?
They are like huge rusty masses of growing concrete. There are water ways, tunnels, openings and everywhere growth. One of the biggest rusticle recovered in 1996 was preserved. It had been growing on a steel plate brought up for analysis and it is still possible to see the rivet holes and the joint between two steel plates. This rusticle is a world traveler and has already been exhibited at the Hamburg and the Zurich Titanic exhibitions in 1997 to 1999.


What test were performed in the 1996 expedition?
The BART™ tests were used a lot to fins out whether the RMS Titanic was simply rusting away or whether there was actually life down there that was taking the iron out of the steel and weakening the ships structures. On the research ship Ocean Voyager, a whole range of tests were set up to find out what bacteria were actually growing on the ship.



Were BART™ tests put down on the ship in 1996
Yes tests were actually put down on the ship by the submarine Nautile. There were two BART tests put down on the bridge deck. They were designed to detect heterotrophic (blue cap) and iron bacteria (red cap). They were brought up after 3 and 12 days respectively and both showed evidence of bacterial activity. Yes, there is microbial life on the Titanic. This photograph shows the blue capped tube being brought back.



What was the other test down on the ship in 1996?
As well as the two BART tests there was also a test to detect any bacteria that could break down proteins as a food. They are the two tests on each side of the barts. The protein was in black slide film that had been developed but not exposed (that is why it was black). Bacteria at the site were able to creep in through the textile covering the film and eat away at the gelatin protein there. The bacteria left their tracks as etchings and the textile turned blue with the colors from the film. This is one of the etch platforms from 1996 that had been brought back and the film separated out from the textile.



What did the etching experiment find in 1996?
The bacteria had literally mined out the color slide film leaving tunnels, plates and mine out the various colored gelatin to make patterns, shapes and images that are really photographs of the bacterial activities on the gelatin. Under a microscope, these patterns become real like this one of a gull.



How can you grow rusticles?
Rusticles are growing all over the ship, about 560 tons was calculated to on the outside of the ship in 1996 and they are growing! So can they be grown in the laboratory? The first method was to grow them on steel plates in a seawater aquarium. They grew particularly where the steel had been damaged or bent. They could be seen growing on the steel.



How can you feed rusticles?
Rusticles could be fed by injecting nutrient food through syringes. The food that they liked the best was the same one as we use to grow iron related bacteria. This is because the bacteria in the rusticles include a lot of iron bacteria. When they are fed, they often make slime clouds and also clouds of red dust that is probably similar to the type that is on Mars.



Can rusticles grow in wells as well as out in the ocean depths?
In a study in 1998 in Alberta looking at the different bacteria that grow in water wells there and cause stinks, clogs, plugs and other often nasty things to happen, we found that some of the bacteria actually would grow rusticles! In a iron related bacteria test, sometimes a rusticle would grow hanging down from the ball in the top of the test.



How easy is it to grow rusticles on steel and see if they are eating it away?
Using the BART test with three holes drilled through the bottom on the underside, and putting the bart on to mild steel, when water was added the bacteria began to grow on the steel to make rusticle-like structures. The steel underneath became pitted as the iron was eaten away by the bacteria.



Now how do you grow rusticles on steel right at the site of the Titanic?
Well we designed a "staircase" of three different steels all hammered or twisted or burnt or tempered and we built them into an IPSCO test platform. Four of these platforms were taken out to the site on the 1998 expedition. Each one was carefully checked in the laboratories on the research vessel Petrel V before going down to the ship.



Where did you put the IPSCO steel test platforms?
The first IPSCO test platform was put right in from the big engines which could be seen towering above the keel at the front and of the stern of the ship.



The second test platform was put down on the port (left) side on the boat deck just behind the bridge. The decking is badly corroded here and there is a lot of rusticle activity.



The third IPSCO test platform was placed right under the stem at the very front of the bow of the ship in the middle of a pile of rusticle debris (old rusticles that had dropped off the ship). There was a blizzard of "sea snow" which made it difficult to see the platform on the floor.



The final IPSCO test platform was installed just below the well deck also on the port side of the ship.



When another expedition goes out to recover these platforms, the amount of steel eaten away by the rusticles will tell a story as to how long the ship will last. The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and IPSCO Inc., a steel corporation have both supported this investigation.

Did you put any barts down at the site in 1998?
Yes BARTs and etches were put down. Microscopic photographs of the etchings has been made into the "Dominion of Nature" that will shortly be seen at the Maryland Science Center as a part of an exhibition on Titanic Science. Barts were put down at the site on test platforms with three test on each platform. They were unloaded from containers and placed on the ship near the IPSCO test platforms.





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