Science and Society

What are the most popular theories surrounding the Bermuda Triangle?
Answered by Bambi Turner
  • Bambi Turner

    Bambi Turner

  1. In December 1945, five U.S. Navy bombers set off on a training mission from south Florida, heading east over the Atlantic Ocean. After the planes and their crew failed to return to base, another plane was sent out to find the missing men. Neither the original planes nor the rescue plane were ever seen again. When writing about this event, magazines and newspapers began to refer to this area as the Bermuda Triangle. The name stuck, as members of the media continued cataloguing other strange disappearances and mysterious happenings that had occurred there over the years.

    Since the 1950s, people have blamed everything from space aliens to sea monsters for the disappearances of ships and aircraft between Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Miami. For those who are less inclined to explain mysterious events in terms of mysterious creatures, one popular theory posits that watercraft may have fallen victim to sudden gas hydrate activity in the waters of the Triangle. Gas hydrates are solid crystals, much like ice, with gases trapped inside. Many ocean floor sediments possess high concentrations of methane gas hydrate, which if ruptured could rapidly release massive amounts of methane into the sea water, which in turn would lower the density of the water and cause floating objects to be submerged suddenly and with no warning. While excessive methane hydrate activity in the Bermuda Triangle may have caused the sea floor to shift or collapse at some point in history, this shift occurred thousands of years ago, well before large ships were traveling in the region [source: Dillon].

    Another popular theory that people have used to explain the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle involves unusual compass activity. One widely-cited myth is that the standard compass used by a seafarer or pilot will point to true north within the Triangle, rather than magnetic north, causing vessels to veer off course and become lost at sea. While such a navigational mix-up may have been possible in the distant past, the U.S. Navy points out that changes in the earth's magnetic field have rendered this type of fluctuation impossible for well over a century. Since the 1800s, compasses used within the Bermuda Triangle have functioned the same as compasses used virtually anywhere else in the world, with the needle indicating magnetic north [source: Naval History and Heritage Command].

    Today, most reputable agencies regard the Bermuda Triangle as nothing more than a myth. The U.S. Geological Survey calls it a "fairy tale," the U.S. Coast Guard does not recognize the area as a specific hazard, and the U.S. Navy refers to the Bermuda Triangle an "imaginary area," which does not exist on official maps or naval documents [sources: Dillon, U.S. Coast Guard, Naval History and Heritage Command]. Statistically, the number of planes and ships that have mysteriously disappeared within the Bermuda Triangle is no greater than the number of vessels lost in other parts of the world's oceans [source: Webster].

    Yet even as the experts debunk the legends of the Bermuda Triangle, many people continue to associate this area with the supernatural. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that some of the best known vessels that disappeared in the Triangle have never been found, including the naval bombers and rescue plane originally lost in 1945. While the idea that these vessels and their passengers could disappear so completely is sure to send a shiver down your spine, this phenomenom is easily explained by simple geography. The Bermuda Triangle features some of the deepest ocean trenches on earth, which means that a sinking ship or ditched plane could quickly become inaccessible, even with modern technology. In addition, the strong current in this area, known as the Gulf Stream, brings tropical weather and swift-moving waters that can dismantle a damaged plane or ship and carry it away so that the remains can never be recovered [source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. 

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