1. Welcome to Encyclopedia Titanica
    or subscribe for unlimited access to ET! You can also login with , or !
    Dismiss Notice

Temperature of Water

Discussion in 'In the Freezing Water' started by Scott Mills, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member

    I feel like I've been spamming these boards with inane questions lately, and if so, please tell me and I will make myself stop! :) In any case, I have questions about the water temperature on the night of April 14th.

    According to every reference I've encountered the water temperature was 28 degrees. This is what the temperature was calculated on Titanic (thus the fear of the fresh water freezing), but I'm curious about something. According to every source I've been able to find on hypothermia and water temperatures, a clothed individual in water below 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit should be unconscious in under 15 minutes, possibly dead, and certainly dead within no more than 45 minutes (the healthiest individuals).

    Yet Titanic survivors report hearing screams for more than an hour, and Lowe picked up a number of survivors from the water after these screams had "died down." Is it possible they were in error about the temperature of the water? Survivor reports could simply be a result of time distortion--or how our perception of time is altered in moments of high stress (the world stood still)--but there is the problem of the uniformity of recollections. This too can be explained by the fact that memory is a social and constructive process, and the business of coming to agreement about traumatic events by participants is a well known phenomena in cases of pstd, which believe it or not we all suffer from mildly every time we're in a car accident or in a highly stressful and unusual situation.

    Even with that though I still wonder about the water temperature. Surely at least one of the officers in the lifeboats had a watch, and was consulting it during and after Titanic's foundering (how else would we know the time the ship vanishes into the deep?)

    More importantly there is collapsible b. This overturned boat had many men who weren't even on it, but floating along side it hanging by a rope. This doesn't match my understanding of the relation of water temperature to hypothermia for two reasons. First, they float around and in this boat all night. While I understand these men were moving and working to keep their boat from sinking, those in the water, at least, would surely have died if the water was really 28 degrees. Yet only 3 die that night.

    Second there are those who were pulled from the water at some time well after the screaming has stopped and those on top of collapsible b. My understanding is that as little as 1 minute in water this cold will start the hypothermic process that should eventually lead to death if not treated immediately, e.g. wet cloths removed person moved to a warm area, given warm liquids and being given blankets (preferably thermal blankets). Yet of those on top of collapsible b, nearly all live, and of those pulled from the water--one of whom was drunk, which should have made him more likely to freeze to death than live--only 1 dies.

    So these men and women fall into 28 degree water, in most cases are submerged partially (and Lights totally) for a minimum of 5 minutes. Some possibly much longer (if we are to believe those in the boats close to an hour). Some stay submerged for a long period during the night. Those that don't are wet, should already be hypothermic and nearly unconscious and have to sit in their wet cloths in the cold air for hours before Carpathia comes around.

    Something, somewhere, seems wrong to me about the water temperature in relation to survivor reports.
  2. Jake Peterson

    Jake Peterson Member

    I think the freezing point is 32 F. Since it was one point below freezing, I always took it to mean 31 F. I supposed the temp in the water might have decreased throughout the night, though.
  3. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member

    Jake, seawater actually has a lower freezing point than fresh water, so it is entirely possible that the water was 28 degrees (after all there were icebergs floating around!)

    What doesn't make sense, or has never been explained adequately in my mind, is that with our physiological understanding of hypothermia--the nitty gritty of which we didn't know until after the second world war--some of our facts about Titanic's foundering seem to contradict the reported water temperature of 28 degrees f.
  4. Bags

    Bags Member

    *speculation* Is it possible that the clothing worn acted somewhat like a wet suit? IE. Allowed the creation of a boundary layer of "relatively still water" which the body could then warm and maintain? As opposed to bare skin which would permit any warmth the body could produce to be wicked away?

  5. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member


    I suppose this is possible as I think the clothing worn during the period was heavier. Their life jackets had quark, so maybe this is a good insulator?

    Still though, even with modern emergeny hypothermia suits, I don't the that survrability in water that cold is much more than an hour--maybe less--and you have to think they would be more efficient than Edwardian clothing?
  6. Bags

    Bags Member

    Yeah Scott, it is/was a bit of a stretch. Realistically I can't see the 'R' value being too high in either case ('boundary layer' or cork). It is, however, the only thing my landlubber mind can come up with. Perhaps some of the mariner's amongst us have sounder ideas, *cough* hint, hint, *cough*.
  7. Jude

    Jude Member

    Hi again Scott,

    I've finally been able to navigate around here again - the heavy traffic appears to have died down at last! My interest is Lightoller - i have his autobiography "Titanic and other ships", his brilliant biography, "Titanic Voyager" by Patrick Stenson plus two accounts of how he prayed during his Titanic ordeal and during another shipwreck (he endured 4 in his long nautical life, plus all sorts of other adventures and heroism). He certainly states that the water was 28F, so we I guess have to assume that the temperature was taken - probably by one of the later boats picking up the bodies?

    I used to work as cabin crew for BA and we were always told that if we were in icy water the thing that was important was to protect our vital organs - go into the fetal position. Another thing that always stands out to me is one time, early one morning, in Portugal, I noticed ice on the tail and told the Captain, who laughed at me, but thought better of it and then apologised and asked me to open all the aircraft bars and remove the bottles of vodka, which were used by the engineer to defrost the tail (they didn't have any defrosting fluid there!)

    Now, with the cook, (Charles Joughin) who said he trod water all night, perhaps the alcohol in his blood kept it from freezing? Also, as Bags suggested I think, his lifejacket kept him above the water - he says that only his legs were submerged. Of course another factor might have been that the alcohol took away the fear of death? You see, our mental attitude has far more power than most people give credit for. If you believe you are going to die and give up - you will. There was a dog (was it a Newfoundland?) who also swum and was fine, but of course, they are used to swimming and dogs don't know that they are supposed to die in icy water.

    I thought you might be interested in these extracts from the Testimony of Charles Joughin (the cook we were talking about above)

  8. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member


    You might be onto something if it was truly the case that no parts of the body were submerged except the legs.

    This was certainly not the case for everyone on collapsible b though. And if one person avoided hypothermia because the lifebelt kept his trunk from getting wet, wouldn't there have been others.

    Also, my understanding that in reality alcohol has the opposite effect. In other words, the higher your bal, the faster your body would have lost heat in the water.

    As for the water temp, I have a lot of general knowledge, and not a lot of specifics, but I was under the impression that it was taken by Titanic during Lights shift, thus his comments about the ships fresh water to Murdoch.
  9. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member


    I find that last bit of the testimony very interesting. That he said he felt colder in the lifeboat says potentially two things. It goes to show that my point is accurate--mainly that getting out of the water should not, in and of itself, prevent you from getting hypothermia and dying. It is also interesting because he could be saying that the air temperature was colder than the water temperature... meaning I suppose that the water was not as cold as we thought.

    Also, on a further note. Doing a little more research, jumping into water that is 28 degrees should cause immediate thermal shock--this is where your body shivers uncontrollably and you lose most of your motor skills. This makes it seem even more unlikely that someone like Lightoller could jump in the water, get sucked down and nearly drown, then swim to the surface, over to an overturned life boat, and then climb on top of it.
  10. Jude

    Jude Member

    Hi Scott,

    I've just spent a while researching and answering both your posts and then hit Post and lost the whole thing as I had been logged out :mad: Gee this site doesn't give you much time!

    I'm now about to go away for the next few days, but will get back to you a.s.a.p.
  11. Jude

    Jude Member

    Hi Scott,

    Sorry it's taken a while to get back to you, but as you know, i got sidetracked by Lightoller again! :rolleyes:

    Here;s confirmation of the water temperature from Lord: TIP | United States Senate Inquiry | Day 18 | Correspondence of Philip Franklin Water temp from Capt. Lord of the Californian

    I've also got Archibald Gracie's The truth about the Titanic - it's excellent. He gives a moving account of the way that he, like Lights, was pulled under water and how he felt he was drowning and had lost all strength so prayed that his family could somehow see him to say goodbye. At the same time, his wife in New York could not sleep and then heard a voice telling her to get down on her knees and pray. She grabbed her prayer book and it opened at "For those at sea'. At presumably the same time, Gracie suddenly felt a huge surge of strength and was able to swim upwards and reach Collapsible B.

    He says in his account that while swimming he did not notice the cold of the water - only when he was standing on top of the boat. In the other testimony I have of Lightoller's about another shipwreck, where he was in the sea about 2 hours before being rescued, he said there that he did not feel the cold at all - and then remarked that it had been the same with the Titanic . He certainly had said that the initial shock of the water temperature had taken all ability to even think away for a few moments and also said how cold he felt on B, but it seems that both he and Gracie (who were both men of deep faith) somehow did not feel the cold in the water.

    As I said above, I do feel that a person's mental attitude has a HUGE affect on whether they survive - or even feel the cold! Look at the joy here:

    At The Dead Of Winter: Taking the Plunge Into Icy Water

  12. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member

    Not feeling the cold of the water is actually pretty normal, as I understand it, when hypothermia sets in. If you've gotten that far that usually means you're almost dead--indeed people at this point begin to feel hot, and take off their cloths.

    Just getting out of the water would not, if you were this far gone, help in the slightest... and you should still feel as if you weren't cold at all.


    Looking at the evidence we have, and comparing to water temperature hypothermia charts, it seems that the water temperature--seems being the operative word--would have to have been in the high 30s at its coldest (probably more around 40 degrees). This would also explain how people getting out of the water actually felt that the air was colder than the water--because it would have been markedly so.
  13. Jude

    Jude Member

    So how do you account for this:

    TIP | United States Senate Inquiry | Day 18 | Correspondence of Philip Franklin

Liverpool, May 11, 1912.
    Senator SMITH,
    Sir: After leaving Boston I found that I had unintentionally given a wrong reply to one of your questions. You asked me, "Could I give you the temperature of the water from my log book." I replied, "No; but I could give it to you from memory," which I did.
    The log books I have always used have not had a column for temperature of water, but this voyage we have had a new type of book, which has the column in. Although I had the log book at the time you asked me, my reply was based on the ones I had always been in the habit of using. Below I give you the temperature of air and water from noon April 14 to noon April 15. I am sir, yours, respectfully,

    April 14th Midnight
    Air temp: 27
    Water temp: 28
    April 15 - 4 a. m.
    Air temp: 29
    Water temp 29
  14. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member


    I can't at all, which was the point of this thread to begin with! How do we explain survivor testimony, the physical condition of survivors who, the reported temperatures and what we now know about the physiology of hypothermia?

    Ie people without thermal survior in 28 degree water should be unconscious within 15 minutes (the 15 being the high range for the healthiest individuals). And this is assuming life jackets are worn.

    If they are not wearing life jackets (like Lightoller) the range should be 5 to 9 minutes.

    Couple this with thermal shock which should get you for the first 3 minutes and the last 5 minutes, and the fact that merely getting out of the water with no intervention should not save you, then how did the screams last for an hour? How were people like Lightoller and Gracie completely submerged for 2 minutes, and in the water for much longer, able to pull themselves onto an overturned boat and survive through the night?

    I was hoping for a pretty straight forward answer! So far it has not been coming. :)
  15. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member

    Forgive the errors and typos. Posted from my phone.
  16. Jude

    Jude Member


    Lightoller did have a lifejacket on - he hadn't thought about it, but when he went below after being told to get the revolvers out, one of the officers reminded him about them and he was passing his cabin at the time and glanced in and saw it on top of a cupboard, so he put it on. He was very grateful for that.

    I believe the lifejackets were made of cork - cork is in insulator and they were very long, coming down to the tops of the legs. I'm sure that must have helped, but, as I said before, I feel it was the mental attitude of those who survived that got them through.

    Just edited to add these bits from his testimony - the top was after he went for the revolvers:

    How many days - was it 3 that the Carpathia took to get to New York - and he only had half an hour's sleep in that time. Of course, apart from Lightoller and Gracie, we don't know whether the others who survived were also men of deep faith, but our friend that baker - my theory is that it was the alcohol that removed his fear (and perhaps all thought of dying). You only have to read accounts of nocebos and how people can get ill and also die through suggestion to realise how we need to take command of our thinking!
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2012
  17. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member


    Mindset and you willingness to stay alive have a lot to do with what you can survive, their is no doubt in my mind. We know that Gracie was fairly religious, but that said... I don't know how you could push yourself much beyond the 15 minutes. Some I'm sure could push it to 30 minutes... and perhaps the cork lifebelt aided a bit, but keep in mind modern thermal suits would only keep you alive for maybe an hour in water like that...

    And Gracie, iirc was an older gentleman who was still recovering from surgery! Certainly he shouldn't be on the list of people most likely to withstand the cold for longer than 15 minutes.

    So numbers like "almost an hour" for continuous screaming seem "miraculous." Not being someone of faith myself, I find myself preferring scientific explanations. :D
  18. Jude

    Jude Member

    I have read somewhere were people were talking about how time can play tricks on us. if you are enjoying yourself, it passes quickly, but when in a situation you don't want to be in, it can seem interminable. Those who survived apart, I have to question whether the others in the water who perished, really did survive for as long as those who were trying to shut out the sound described. Did anyone actually check the times - I mean those in a lifeboat?

    There is a tiny possibility that when the water hit the boilers and there were those explosions, that hot water came up to the surface, but I wouldn't have thought that there would have been much of it or that it could have made that difference.

    We will never know. It was a horrible death to die and I'm just grateful for those who did survive, despite all the odds. And I'm grateful that lessons were learned as a result of the arrogance and the multitude of mistakes made and that efforts have been made to protect the safety of all on board ship in future years.
  19. Mila

    Mila Member

    Does somebody know if there is the data on the air and water temperatures available from the Mount Temple or other ships, but the Californian and the Titanic?
  20. Aaron_2016

    Aaron_2016 Member

    The German steamship Paula was in the area on April 14th. Her temperature readings can be seen here:

    Skip to 1:50

    From the US Inquiry

    Wireless messages from 'German S.S. Paula. Master, H. Rieke. Received at branch hydrographic office, Norfolk, Va., April 20, and forwarded to Hydrographic Office Received in Hydrographic Office April 22.'

    April 14, 11:40 A.M., latitude 41° 54' N., longitude 40° 32' W., one large iceberg.
    April 14, 11:40 A.M., latitude 41° 50' N., longitude 49° 33' W., one large iceberg.
    April 14, noon, latitude 41° 53' N., longitude 49° 36' W., one large iceberg.
    April 14, forenoon, from latitude 41° 58' longitude 49° 30' W., till 41° 56', 49° 52', heavy pack ice. One field.
    April 14, 5:30 P.M., from latitude 41° 55', longitude 50° 13', till latitude 41° 40', longitude 50° 30' heavy pack ice and 30 large icebergs in one field.