‘Operation Titanic’: US turns to satellite technology to detect icebergs

It was the “unsinkable ship” until it wasn’t.

Ten minutes before the Titanic’s maiden voyage ended in calamity, a radio operator aboard the nearby SS Californian reported that there was an iceberg in the ship’s path. The warning was ignored and the massive collision that followed claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people, sparking a wave of maritime innovations: sonar and radar navigation features, rescue drills and the creation of the International Ice Patrol (IPI).

Now, 110 years after the sinking of the Titanic, the US government is developing new technology designed to detect and report icebergs to the maritime community.

“Operation Titanic,” led by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Branch, will merge satellite radar imagery with ship reporting systems to allow the U.S. Coast Guard to identify in real time ice masses throughout the North Atlantic Ocean.


Provided by the US Coast Guard

Floating icebergs like the one the Titanic struck on April 15, 1912, still pose navigational risks to ships, oil rigs and military assets today, said Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, senior DHS official carrying out the duties as Undersecretary for Science and Technology. CBS News.

“The Titanic actually hit the iceberg at a latitude equivalent to the Massachusetts area,” Coulter Mitchell said. “Those of us in this mission space don’t always realize how far south the iceberg mission is, how widespread the iceberg mission is.”

The 16-person IIP is funded by 17 countries bordering the transatlantic region, but is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard during the ice season, February through July.

The patrol initially relied on cutters deployed by the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor icebergs, but switched to aircraft monitoring after World War II. Today, the IIP flies 9-day air missions every two weeks.

Two members of the International Ice Patrol (IIP) lay a wreath at the site of the Titanic’s collision.

Provided by the US Coast Guard

“Operation Titanic” will mark a “complete departure from [U.S. Coast Guard’s] decades of flying fixed-wing aircraft to locate icebergs,” said Coast Guard Commander Marcus Hirschberg of the International Ice Patrol. .

A US Coast Guard patrols the North Atlantic.

Provided by the US Coast Guard

“Aerial ice reconnaissance” routinely accounts for more than $10 million in annual costs for the US Coast Guard. Beyond price, C-130J aircraft that fly bi-weekly missions — about 500 flight hours per season — are also the U.S. Coast Guard’s most sought-after aviation assets.

“We’re going to get a lot more bang for our buck once we can use those flying hours for disaster response, counter-narcotics operations, migrant operations and other areas,” Hirschberg added.

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