What Really Happens to a Human Body at Titanic Depths
It’s a scene straight out of a horror movie — a submersible with five souls on board implodes, deep below the ocean’s surface, at the resting place of the infamous Titanic.
Many reporters are asking if there will be an attempt to bring up the bodies.
But what actually happens to the human body in such unfathomable depths? The answer lies in the peculiar, high-pressure, high-temperature world of deep-sea physics. Join me on a journey through time — millisecond by millisecond — to explore this dark, alien realm.
The Physics of Pressure
Before we take the plunge, let’s do a quick crash course on pressure. In everyday terms, pressure is force exerted on an area. In our normal environment, that’s air pressure. But as you descend under water, that pressure increases due to the weight of the water above. Roughly, for every 10 meters (33 feet) you descend, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere (atm), or approximately 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi).
The Titanic wreckage lies at a depth of about 3,800 meters (12,500 feet). At that depth, the pressure is an astonishing 380 atmospheres, or about 5,600 psi. That’s equivalent to having a large elephant standing on every inch of your body.
Milliseconds of Terror
In our dreadful scenario, let’s assume the submersible wall failed suddenly and catastrophically. What would happen to the passengers within?
The First 10 Milliseconds
At the very moment the hull breaches, there’s an immediate equalization of pressure. The air inside the submersible, previously at a comfortable 1 atmosphere, must now contend with the 380 atmospheres outside.
The results are explosive. Literally.
Pascals are a unit of pressure. At this depth, the pressure on all sides of the air bubble containing these five men is 38,503,500 pascals. This is the same amount of pressure released by 292 kilograms of C4 explosive.
But this is just the start of our descent into the trauma abyss. The imploding bubble of the…