What was the water temperature

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Janie Whitty

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Does anyone know what the water temperature was? The Air temperature? Just curious. A newbie to this site. Please be gentle.
 

John M. Feeney

Senior Member
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Janie: Grrr. Hiss. Growl! (Just kidding.) :)

Here's the memo that Captain Lord of the Californian -- the ship relatively close to the Titanic -- submitted to the U.S Inquiry (US 1142):
[hr]
Quote:

S. S. "CALIFORNIAN,"
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,
STANLEY LORD.

Air.Water.
April 14 - Noon5056
4 p. m.3736
8 p. m.3032
Midnight2728
April 15 - 4 a. m.2929
6 a. m.----
Noon3831
[hr]​
Cheers,
John
 

Mike Herbold

Member
Feb 13, 2001
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John:
I can understand the differences in air temperature, but how could the water possibly vary that much? My pool water doesn't usually swing more than 5 degrees a day, unless the cover is on and its a really hot day. Seems like the ocean could only vary a few degrees even if the sun was beating down on it. Note that he says the water was 56 degrees at noon April 14th and 31 degrees at noon April 15th. I wonder if the April 14th reading was faulty, or a typographical error.
 

John M. Feeney

Senior Member
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Mike: I thought of this even as I was posting that excerpt. And if it were merely a question of change in water temperature at one location I'd agree that would seem a pretty exceptional swing.

I suspect if those 50º/56º temperatures are correct, it's largely because Lord was then (Noon) at 42º 5' N, 47º 25' W, outside the influence of that frigid Labrador Current he and the Titanic ultimately encountered. Moving out of the moderating influence of those warm Gulf Stream / North Atlantic Drift waters into that unusually strong Labrador Current obviously would produce some radical extremes.

Reade (in "The Ship that Stood Still") posts an accompanying summary of Titanic's recorded water temperatures for 14 April (P.M.), as follows:

7:00 -- 43º F
7:30 -- 39º
8:00 -- 31º-31.5º (from Hichins)
9:00 -- 33º

*Some* of this drop was obviously due to the encroachment of nightfall. But local sunset was only at 6:40 pm, and the British Report revealed a downturn in temperature (from Titanic's perspective) between 6:00 and 7:30 pm of 10 degrees (p. 29)! If this applied equally to water temperature, presumably it was measured as about 50 degrees from Titanic at 6:00 PM, and falling rapidly.

So, it might be a typo. But then it's entirely possible that it's not. Like the proverbial real estate slogan, this one may hinge primarily on "Location, location, location".

Cheers,
John
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

Guest
Of course, one could also consider Lightoller's reply to Senator Smith on the first day of the American Inquiry. I think Lights was getting a little tired of being questioned about the subject.

Senator SMITH. Can you tell us how cold that water was?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER. I know what it was when I was in it.

I can imagine a subtext of "And right about now, I'd really love to show you, sir!"

Pat Winship
 
J

Janie Whitty

Guest
Thanks, John, for the expert answer and others for your insight. You're all amazing with your knowledge. Am enjoying the great info on this site. Stumbled across it as a genealogist.....may not leave for a while. So much to learn on this facinating piece of history!
 

Mike Herbold

Member
Feb 13, 2001
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John:
I'm away from home, so can't grab "The Ship That Stood Still" right now. I'm curious as to how Reade got the data for the water temperatures that Titanic experienced. The log book was obviously lost. Did some of the crewmen remember the various times and temperatures?
 

John M. Feeney

Senior Member
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Mike: The 8:00 PM Hichins reading is specifically identified as being from US 458. But it's not clear from Reade -- at least in the table -- where the other three came from. (The table is itself in a footnote, without further references cited.)

I assume, of course, that he extracted those from verbal recollections provided at the Inquiries. (But I dunno.) May check T.I.P. quickly to see if I can locate the source.

Cheers,
John
 

John M. Feeney

Senior Member
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Mike: Looks like Lightoller was the source there, from this and surrounding text in the British Inquiry:

13589. (The Commissioner.) And from 7 to half-past seven there was a fall of four degrees in the temperature? - Yes, my Lord.
13590. (The Solicitor-General.) Did you observe that at the time as something pretty sharp? - Yes, a pretty sharp drop. It had been going down previously to that before I left the deck.
13591. When did you notice the fall in the temperature beginning seriously? - Probably about half-past six.
13592. Very well; the fall in the temperature began at half-past six and a drop of four degrees between seven and half-past? - Yes.
13593. Did you notice what the actual temperature was a little later by the thermometer? - Yes, later on in the watch I think the Quartermaster two or three times told me what the temperature was in order that I might know when it got near to freezing point to send word to the engine room and the carpenter with regard to fresh water.
13594. Can you tell me what was the temperature which you were given and at what time? - When Mr. Murdoch mentioned it to me as far as I recollect it had fallen from 43 degrees to 39.
13595. This is Fahrenheit I suppose, is it not? - Yes; and then I sent word down to the carpenter about nine o'clock; it was then 33 degrees, and I sent word to the carpenter and to the engine room - for the carpenter to look after his fresh water; that is to say, he has to drain it off to prevent the pipes freezing - and to the engine room for them to take the necessary precautions for the winches.
13596. It is 33 degrees at nine o'clock. That is only one degree above freezing? - One degree, exactly.

But it's not clear whether those are water or air temperatures. (It sounds more like air to me, especially since the water temps were only taken every two hours normally.) So it's possible there's an alignment error in Reade's table. (There are columns for both air and water temperatures, but Titanic's numbers all show up under "water".)

Think so?

Cheers,
John
 

John M. Feeney

Senior Member
Sep 20, 2000
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And further on in Lightoller's testimony ...

13702. ... Just one further thing - You have spoken about the change in the temperature, and you have brought the change in the temperature down to 33 degrees at about 9 o'clock. Then you had another hour. Did you notice whether it went colder? - I did; 1 degree.
13703. That would be getting down to freezing point? - That was exactly freezing.
13704. 32 degrees. Do you remember what time you noticed it had got down to 32 degrees? - No, I could not say. Most probably it was about 10 minutes to 10, when the quartermaster took the temperature of the air and the water by thermometer.
13705. Is that the duty, in the ordinary course, of the Quartermaster at 10 minutes to 10? - Yes, every hour it is registered.
13706. At 10 minutes to the hour? - Yes - every two hours I should say.

Hmmm. Looks like it's time for a handmade correction to Reade. Unless there's more to this than meets the eye, I have to imagine that all but the 8:00 Hichins reading in that table are actually *air* temperatures:

TitanicAirWater
7:00 pm43º F
7:3039º
8:0031º-31.5º (from Hichins)
9:0033º

Your thoughts?
 

Charmaine Sia

Member
Nov 25, 2001
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Just a question from someone who doesn't have much experience between the difference in water and air temperatures:

How do water and air temperatures normally vary - which one varies more? Also, is one normally higher than the other most of the time?

Thanks!
Charmaine
 

John M. Feeney

Senior Member
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Charmaine: Air temperatures are normally a lot more volatile than water temperatures -- at least for large bodies of water like lakes or oceans.

It's not possible to choose which will be colder or warmer outright. What is observable is that water temperatures are inherently more stable in nature, so much so that proximity to large bodies of water tends to have a moderating effect on adjacent land climates.

But in a single locale (over water, that is), it's almost a given that the big swings will be in air temperature, which (pardon the pun) changes like the wind. Technically, water has a relatively high heat capacity, which simply means it can store a lot of energy without significantly increasing its temperature, and relatively low thermal conductivity -- it's greedy about holding on to its heat. Air masses, on the other, far more readily translate heat into temperature distribution (and wind) -- high thermal conductivity.

As a result, in nature bodies of water serve as a heat sink, while air acts more like the gardon hose, dispersing temperature changes rapidly. (But for a far better description than I can really give you, consult a physical geography, or perhaps an earth science, text.)

Cheers,
John
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Aside from the fatal consequences of hypothermia to human beings immersed in freezing water, the air/water temperature may have a relationship to the iceberg accident.

While not a 100% indicator of ice, a sudden drop in both air and water temperature has been noted in and around ice fields by arctic explorers. Whether or not the dropping air/water tempertures recorded on Titanic that night were related to the ice has never been proven or disproven.

Air temperatures and relative humidity may have had some impact on the "seeing" conditions. It is possible that moist air over the ice may have produced the appearance of "haze" (it was not) over the ice and created a mirage known as "towering."

Certainly, the below freezing air temperature reduced the efficiency of the lookouts. Don't forget they faced a 22+ knot apparent wind created by the ship's own forward movement. Imagine trying to stare into a 25 land miles per hour freezing wind for several hours.

--David G. Brown