I came across an absurd title on MailOnline, "Did the MOON sink the Titanic? Freak tides caused icebergs to fill shipping lanes 100 years ago," where a claim is made:

The 'once-in-many-lifetimes' event brought together the Moon's closest approach to the Earth for 1,400 years, a near encounter between the Earth and the Sun, and a spring tide. All these factors contributed to abnormally high sea levels which helped dislodge grounded icebergs and send them into the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, [...] .

Did the moon's tidal effect sick the Titanic?

  • 1
    "closest approach to the Earth" - I can't see how that makes any sense. Any astronomers want to comment?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 8, 2013 at 2:47
  • 6
    At Full and New moons, when the Earth, Moon, and Sun roughly align, you get strong "Spring tides". The Moon's orbit of Earth is elliptical: when closest approach coincides with spring tides you get "perigean spring tides." The Earth's orbit of the sun is elliptical: closest approach to Sun is perihelion. Argument is that combo of all three produced peak tides. (See illustration in my answer below.) Jan 8, 2013 at 18:48
  • 5
    No, hitting an ice berg and filling up with water is what sank Titanic :)
    – GordonM
    Jan 8, 2014 at 14:42

1 Answer 1


Not directly, but there was an unusual tidal event in the preceding months that may have contributed to the unusual number of icebergs in the shipping lanes in Spring 1912.

“Of course, the ultimate cause of the accident was that the ship struck an iceberg. The Titanic failed to slow down, even after having received several wireless messages warning of ice ahead,” Olson said. “They went full speed into a region with icebergs—that’s really what sank the ship, but the lunar connection may explain how an unusually large number of icebergs got into the path of the Titanic.”

--Donald Olson, Physics faculty of Texas State University, San Marcos

Olson and others wrote an article detailing this theory that was published as the lead feature in the April 2012 issue of Sky & Telescope, a non-peer-reviewed but well-respected magazine.

Essentially the article makes the case that an unusual combination of forces would have led to particularly high tides and that these incrementally higher tides may have floated some icebergs that otherwise have stayed grounded and perhaps, but for this, Leo and Kate would have lived happily ever after.

I imagine that the only way one could prove this theory would be to examine the iceberg in question and see if it had signs of having been shallowly grounded.

I have the article in question and could answer specific questions. I believe that Sky & Telescope makes their back-issues available for purchase on iOS devices.


This illustration, taken from the article, shows the tidal forces: a combination of spring tides (when the Moon, Earth, and Sun are aligned), perigean ides (when the Moon is nearest Earth in its elliptical orbit), and perihelion (when the Earth is closest to the Sun).

enter image description here

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