Announcer: Welcome to Stuff From the Science Lab from howstuffworks.com.
Allison Loudermilk: Hey, guys and welcome to the podcast. This is Allison Laddermill, the science editor at howstuffworks.com.
Robert Lamb: And this is Robert Lanz, science writer at howstuffworks.com.
Allison Loudermilk: Today we will be helpful instructing you on how to get lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, have you ever been to the Bermuda Triangle?
Allison Loudermilk: I have traveled through it, yeah. A few years back I was on my way from New York City to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a fun weekend. And I didn't really think too much about it. I was actually just so excited to be out of the cold city for a weekend in sunny and warm Puerto Rico, that it didn't even cross my mind. So nothing happened. I'm still here.
Robert Lamb: Didn't get lost, okay.
Allison Loudermilk: What about you?
Robert Lamb: I went on a Carnival Cruise Lines trip with my family.
Allison Loudermilk: Yeah? How was that?
Robert Lamb: It was - I remember eating a lot of pizza off of the limitless pizza bar. I remember playing a lot of Street Fighter Versus X-Man in the little arcade area.
Allison Loudermilk: Did you go to any midnight buffets?
Robert Lamb: Yes, I did. And actually it was kind of spooky. I remember after I left the cruise, I had gained like 20 pounds.
Allison Loudermilk: But you also did not disappear into the Bermuda Triangle.
Robert Lamb: No, not only did I not disappear, more of me came back than set out. So yeah, we both survived, lived to tell the tale, which is not something that can be said for everybody that's flown or sailed into these waters.
Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, so where are these waters again?
Robert Lamb: Well, it's a triangle. The northern point of the triangle is Bermuda. The western point is Miami, Florida, and the eastern point is San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay.
Robert Lamb: And all the waters in between, that's the Bermuda Triangle.
Allison Loudermilk: So where did the legend come from? Why do we think that ships and planes are going to go missing in this area?
Robert Lamb: Well, the actual term Bermuda Triangle comes from a 1964 issue of Argosy Magazine, which is just an American pulp fiction magazine. But they had this article making the case that something weird was going on here because over the past century, they're saying 100 ships and planes have disappeared, maybe 1,000 lives have been lost.
Allison Loudermilk: So a fiction magazine is making the case.
Robert Lamb: Right, yeah, that's what kicked it all off. Yeah.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay.
Robert Lamb: And it also has other names like the Devil's Triangle, if you want to make it sound extra creepy. And some of these instances are pretty fascinating. Like there's the USS Cyclops, set out from Brazil in the early 1900s, and then it had one stop off in Barbados before disappearing just forever; 306 passengers and crew vanished without a trace.
Allison Loudermilk: No kidding.
Robert Lamb: Yup. Then in 1945 -
Allison Loudermilk: This is the big one.
Robert Lamb: - yeah, this is Flight 19. You have five U.S. Navy TBF Avengers got kind of lost and turned around, and then they talked to them on the radar, trying to figure out where they were, what's this island they're flying over. And then they never heard from them again. They sent out two planes to try and find them. One of those blew up in the air, and ever since, we keep finding Avenger wreckage out in the ocean, and it's never one of these five Angers. It's always, like at one point, they found five different wrecks. And people were like, "All right, this is it."
And then the Navy, [inaudible] said, "No, this is five different Avengers from five different situations."
Allison Loudermilk: So remind me never to fly an Avenger airplane.
Robert Lamb: Probably not a big risk, but yeah, never fly one.
Allison Loudermilk: So if you think about examples like that, I mean it's easy to see why the Bermuda Triangle gets such a creepy, mysterious reputation. But you turn to somebody like the U.S. Coastguard, and they're saying, "No, no, no, the area doesn't have an unusual number of incidents.
Robert Lamb: Yeah because this, especially compared to other areas that are also highly trafficked, right? I mean you have a lot of ships, a lot of planes going through these waters.
Allison Loudermilk: And why are they going to be going through? Well, you know, it's a pretty popular destination. Spots like Puerto Rico, if somebody wants to jet off for a sunny weekend.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's been a popular trade route over time. But then I think some people are going to point out that maybe the Coastguard just doesn't want to acknowledge the existence of Atlantis or the presence of UFO activity -
Allison Loudermilk: No doubt, no doubt.
Robert Lamb: - in the Bermuda Triangle. So yeah, there are a lot of reasons that people cite for all these disappearances, and a lot of them are pretty out there. So we're not really going to dwell on the sunken city of Atlantis and its space crystals that are drawing ships down to their icy depths. And we're not really going to get into the UFO abductions, etc. But we are going to talk about some of the pretty solid scientific theories that may be contributing to some of these losses. And then some of the quasi-scientific theories that might be coming into play.
Allison Loudermilk: So why don't you kick it off. Tell us about hurricanes and crazy weather.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, that's the big thing to keep in mind, is that this is an area of the world that's subject to violent and unexpected storms. All right? One second you've got some clear, open sea, and them bam, suddenly you've got maybe water spouts which are basically sea tornados, you know? Big columns of violent water. Those can take out a boat. They can also take out a plane.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay.
Robert Lamb: Or maybe suddenly there's a 100-foot high rogue wave generated by a sea floor earthquake, all right? The thing is this stuff can spring up really quickly and then it's gone before it can actually really pop up on radar.
Allison Loudermilk: Right. Well, there's a lot of speedy activity going on there, which leads us to our next factor in that, which is the gulfstream. And you guys know the gulfstream as a very strong oceanic boundary current that starts up in the Gulf of Mexico, heads north along the coast of North America, the eastern coast of North American, and then shoots on over to Western Europe.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's like a river in the sea, right?
Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, it is a river in the sea like you mentioned, and within the span of the current, that crazy weather is intensified. But the main thing about the current is that it's moving fast, right? So the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration actually has some good stats on this, and they're saying that it flows about 300 times faster than the Amazon.
Robert Lamb: Wow.
Allison Loudermilk: So that's pretty fast. And how fast exactly? About 1 to 3 knots, and then it kind of trickles down and slows down as it moves north. Well, what's the point of all this speed? The point is, is that if you're going to wreck, if you're going to disappear in the ocean, this would be a great place to do it because bam, all the evidence disappears pretty fast thanks to that swiftness of the current. The other thing to keep in mind when you think about the gulfstream is that it's flowing right over some pretty crazy oceanic topography, and some of that topography is seriously, seriously deep. We're talking about like 19,000 to 27,000 feet. So if you want to go missing, this would be a great spot.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, you're not just going to be lost. I mean you're just gone if you're down in these depths. I think this is a cool point to bring up another interesting lost ship, and that's the 1963 SS Marine Silver Queen.
Allison Loudermilk: The Silver Queen, of course.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, now there's several factors playing into this one disappearing. First of all, it had a molten sulfur cargo. So it was pretty volatile, and people tend to think that this ship probably exploded. All right? And then this is pretty deep water, like you said. So all this debris is going to sink and eventually get covered up by sediment, so there's not really going to be any evidence. And then the third thing is that when they were looking for the ship, they did find like bits of clothing, buts of life jacket, etc. And they think sharks may have eaten any survivors. So that's the other thing to keep in mind. These are living waters.
This is like a vibrant and dangerous ecosystem at times, you know?
Allison Loudermilk: Sure, it's a competitive community.
Robert Lamb: Right. So if there are survivors, there's a good chance they'll be eaten. And that actually flows right into the next potential suspect in ship and plane destruction in the Bermuda Triangle, and that's methane gas hydrates, okay?
Allison Loudermilk: Which also goes by the name of -?
Robert Lamb: What?
Allison Loudermilk: I looked this one up and it was oceanic flatulence, I believe.
Robert Lamb: I still don't believe that. I think you're just making that up. But -
Allison Loudermilk: I'm not, I swear.
Robert Lamb: Okay.
Allison Loudermilk: Keep going.
Robert Lamb: Anyway, so this revolves around some stuff that scientists at Cardiff University discovered, and its large concentrations of methane gas trapped on the sea floor.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay.
Robert Lamb: And this is due to, like I say, vibrant ecosystems. So you have a lot of dying and decomposing sea organisms, right?
Allison Loudermilk: Sure.
Robert Lamb: And then you have some bacteria feasting on this buffet down there.
Allison Loudermilk: Yummy.
Robert Lamb: And these bacteria are flatulating parties here, all right? It's creating all this methane gas. All right? It gets trapped down there. It gets trapped in this methane ice which acts like a cap, all right? So it's just concentrated and volatile. All right? So if something disturbs that, it can actually cause a lot of damage. It can cause like basically underwater landslides that they believe in the past has resulted in tsunamis. But it can also cause this bubble, this big burp of methane gas to rise up from the ocean floor, all right?
Allison Loudermilk: Okay.
Robert Lamb: And let's say you're in a ship underneath that rising bubble. Well, they say that this bubble will actually make the water less dense, like basically turn it to foam.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay.
Robert Lamb: So that the ship can't actually float anymore, and it just gets swallowed up.
Allison Loudermilk: Right, so then the ship is kind of lower than the surrounding waters.
Robert Lamb: Right.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay, I can see it.
Robert Lamb: It just basically opens up like a big foamy mouth and just swallows it whole. And then there's a lot of sediment stirred up by this taking place, so that would end up just covering up any wreckage as well, possibly hiding the evidence. All right? Of course, if you're in a plane flying over that sinking boat, some people theorize that this rising column of gas could actually end up setting the plane on fire.
Allison Loudermilk: Oh, man.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, so -
Allison Loudermilk: How often does this happen?
Robert Lamb: Well, there's a lot of it out there. Scientists believe that this stuff occurs throughout the world, and in the amounts we're talking about, are like trillions of cubic feet. Like they're talking about using this as a potential energy source! So there is a lot of it. Now when you get into how often it occurs, like the U.S. Geological Survey says that this is definitely a possible occurrence. It could definitely take out a boat. But they're less certain about it having occurred in this region, the Bermuda Triangle, in the last 15,000 years.
However, there are myths in the Black Sea about these things taking out ships or rigs, and in the year 2000, a sunken fishing trawler was found at the center of a huge gas eruption site in the North Sea.
Allison Loudermilk: You know, this is reminding me a lot of that article that we wrote on exploding lakes.
Robert Lamb: Yes, yeah, it reminds me a lot of that too, the idea that you have this volatile gas at the bottom of, buried underneath all this water, and stuff gets disrupted, it rises up, and it's a lot of gas to come surging back up to the surface.
Allison Loudermilk: So where would you rate this as a contributing factor? It seems kind of on the iffy scale.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's like a very good theory. But whether or not, scientists seem a little uncertain about whether or not it's actually happening or if it's happening - I don't think it's happening enough to be a major contributor to any ship or airplane disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle though.
Allison Loudermilk: Okay. Well I have one that may have been a factor in the past, but is not a factor anymore, and that is magnetic abnormalities. Right? So supposedly if you travelled through the Bermuda Triangle in the 19th Century, your compass would just go berserk, possessed. Spinning, spinning, spinning! So magnetic abnormalities used to be a problem in the Bermuda Triangle, but they're not any more. And the idea behind this is that you have something called magnetic north and you have something called true north. And the difference between the two is called magnetic declination. You guys probably don't need to know this because nowadays your fancy navigational equipment are going to help you out and you really - you don't even need to know about it.
But back in the days of the 19th Century, say, if your compass was pointing toward true north as opposed to magnetic north, you're going to get lost.
Robert Lamb: Right, you'd have a false compass reading.
Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, and you're going to wind up, of course, and you're going to be lost, and maybe you're going to wind up on somebody's Bermuda Triangle list of disappeared ships. But here's the thing. This is no longer a valid theory because the earth's magnetic field is always changing.
Robert Lamb: Right. So modern ships are not getting lost due to this, basically!
Allison Loudermilk: Well, not only that, but your compass isn't going to point towards true north any more in the Bermuda Triangle, say if you had to rely on some really old school equipment.
Robert Lamb: But if you were operating with one of these old-fashioned compasses, you might find yourself at the side of a blue hole.
Allison Loudermilk: Blue hole? What in the heck is a blue hole?
Robert Lamb: Well, a blue hole is very real. It's basically an underwater sinkhole, a vertical cave descending down into the earth. If you do just like a Google search on this, you'll find some real stunning images because you'll have just like crystal clear kind of blue, light blue waters, you know, beautiful Caribbean setting. And then there'll be this circle of just dark, you know, dark blue because there's this pit just descending down for hundreds of feet. I believe - yeah, the deepest one in the world is Dean's Blue Hole -
Allison Loudermilk: Dean?
Robert Lamb: Dean's Blue - yeah, you'd think they would maybe have some other name for it, like the Blue Pit or something. But it's 663 feet deep. And then there's a really cool one, the Black Hole of South Andros. And this one's actually on land, like this little island area. But the theory here - and this is where we leave the factual and get more into the fanciful - but some Bermuda Triangle junkies theorize that these blue holes are caused by micro worm holes.
Allison Loudermilk: Oh, sweet.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, so you know, I guess the idea is that you're flying or you're sailing along and then you're sucked into a micro worm hole, and you show up in the past or in another dimension or in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Who knows? Incidentally, the Black Hole of South Andros actually is a kind of worm hole into the past because they say that the oxygen-free water there has similar properties to water found in the oceans 3.5 billion years ago. There's like toxic bacteria down there, you know, extreme-ophiles living in this, really kind of an alien environment.
Allison Loudermilk: So it's like a water artifact from an ancient time. That's pretty neat.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. The ocean's full of amazing things, just probably not the City of Atlantis.
Allison Loudermilk: Well, it may not be as exciting as blue holes, but there is definitely one contributing factor that we haven't talked about yet, or two, but they're both on the people side, and human error and pirates. Let's talk about human error first. So the idea here is that if you have a lot of people passing through an area, eventually you're going to have an accident. So basically, the numbers are on your side here. If you have enough humans going through an area like the Bermuda Triangle or any other area, one of them is going to have an accident. One of them is going to have an off day. One of them is going to be - what were those pilots doing who wound up going two hours past their destination?
Playing video games? Do you remember the Northwest Airline -
Robert Lamb: No, I missed this one.
Allison Loudermilk: Oh. Well anyway, you get a pilot who has an off day and you're going to have an accident. So I mean the theory here is human error, and -
Robert Lamb: That's an off day, when you're playing video games when you should be piloting the airplane?
Allison Loudermilk: I don't know what they were doing. I cannot actually say that they were -
Robert Lamb: Yeah, people screw up. People can be kind of stupid and there's a lot of people traveling through this area. So some of them are going to screw up!
Allison Loudermilk: And then you have things like pirates. And I know we think of most modern pirates hanging out say over in the waters off Somalia or maybe in Indonesia or something like that. But if I were a pirate, and I'm not, why not head on over to the Bermuda Triangle because then you can say, "Well, hey, it was the mysterious Bermuda Triangle that abducted the ship and plundered all the contents."
Robert Lamb: So let's get to the question here. How do you get lost in the Bermuda Triangle? Like if you really wanted to set out and ensure that you got lost, and if you're listening to this, you know, and you do decide to get lost, do tell us what happens. You know, shoot us an email. But what would you need to do? I think the first thing would be make sure that you're carrying some sort of volatile cargo, preferably volatile valuable cargo, so that it'll either wind up stolen or exploding.
Allison Loudermilk: Right. Make sure that you have a pilot who's maybe a little hung over or something or you know, a captain who's just kind of, you know, thinking about his personal troubles or something. Somebody who's really just not kind of having his mind on the job!
Robert Lamb: Yeah. Try dragging an anchor or something. Try and stir up some methane hydrates.
Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, yeah. Make sure you're passing straight through the gulfstream.
Robert Lamb: Right. Yeah. In fact, do some loops through the gulfstream.
Allison Loudermilk: Ooh, look for extreme weather.
Robert Lamb: Yes. Yeah, try and go during hurricane season. And you know, hang out around some blue holes just in case that worm hole thing pans out.
Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, we think maybe you might be able to get lost in the Bermuda Triangle that way.
Robert Lamb: Go for it. Yeah. And if you, like I said, if you get lost, shoot us an email and tell us what happens.
Allison Loudermilk: So if you wind up lost in the Bermuda Triangle, but you have computer access, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, and while you're on the computer in the Bermuda Triangle, check out some good articles we have. You know, I found one about - that Kristin Conger wrote about the Bermuda Triangle, only it's in the Alaskan wilderness. It's called Why Has Part of the Alaskan Wilderness Been Called the Bermuda Triangle? So you've got to read it to find out.
Robert Lamb: Oh, cool. And also come take a look around the blog, the blogs of howstuffworks.com, where you can read about everything from girls with guns to tequila diamonds.
Allison Loudermilk: Thanks for listening.
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