A Very Deceiving Night: Seeing the inversion

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Important confirmation that there was indeed a strong thermal inversion at Titanic’s wreck site comes from First Class passenger Philipp Edmund Mock who observed the same thing happening to the smoke from the sinking liner, which he observed from Lifeboat Number 11:

“We were probably a mile away when the Titanic’s lights went out.  I last saw the ship with her stern high in the air going down.  After the noise I saw a huge column of black smoke slightly lighter than the sky rising high into the sky and then flattening out at the top like a mushroom.”

Similarly, First Class passenger Colonel Archibald Gracie noticed how a pall of smoke hung in the stratified air above Titanic’s wreckage, as he rose to the surface following being sucked under by the sinking Titanic:

 “What impressed me at the time that my eyes beheld the horrible scene was a thin light-grey smoky vapor that hung like a pall a few feet above the broad expanse of sea that was covered with a mass of tangled wreckage. That it was a tangible vapor, and not a product of imagination, I feel assured. It may have been caused by smoke or steam rising to the surface around the area where the ship had sunk. At any rate it produced a supernatural effect, and the pictures I had seen by Dante and the description I had read in my Virgil of the infernal regions, of Charon, and the River Lethe, were then upper-most in my thoughts.”

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Colonel Archibald Gracie © St Paul’s School

This is all evidence of the heavily stratified air at Titanic’s wreck site, with cold, dense air near the sea and much warmer, less dense air higher up.  It’s also probable that the flat-topped smoke observed by Philipp Mock would have been trapped at the top of the cold band of refracting air, as is the smoke from the chimney below, photographed in miraging conditions, but where there was more wind than on the night the Titanic sank.  Nevertheless, it shows how warm smoke will be trapped below a cold, miraging band:

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Smoke trapped in an inverting layer, photograph by Pekka Parviainen


I hope by blogging chapters from my book, A Very Deceiving Night, it will contribute to the ongoing discussions regarding the atmospheric conditions on the night of the tragedy and the true causes of the disaster. At the moment, the book is only available as an e-book. If you wish to purchase it then you can do so in Amazon Kindle format here and other formats, including Apple, Kobo and Nook, here. Thank you.

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