Bermuda Triangle: fact or fiction?

Justyna Kulpa
23 January 2012

In 1945, five Navy Avengers set out for a routine training session off the Florida coast and never returned. Since then, the public has been intrigued by the mysterious existence of a triangle-shaped area in the Atlantic Ocean capable of swallowing ships whole and snatching planes from the sky.

Is there any scientific truth behind the Bermuda triangle?

No, but several theories have been proposed, some plausible and others that are ridiculous (unless of course you believe in alien abductions or the underwater city of Atlantis). Let’s take a closer look at just three of the many theories to see what science — if any — is behind it.

Did you know? The Bermuda Triangle is an area located in the Atlantic Ocean with apexes at Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico. It spans about 500,000 square miles.

Plausible theory: Crazy Weather

The Bermuda Triangle is often hit by unexpected — and violent — storms. These storms come and go so quickly, there’s no way to effectively track them via satellite to warn unsuspecting pilots and sea captains. In addition to storms, the area is also known for waterspouts (tornados that suck the water up into the sky) and underwater earthquakes that can kick up massive freak waves.

Did you know? The Bermuda Triangle is not officially recognized by the US Board of Geographic Names or by the US Navy.

Somewhat plausible theory: Methane Gas Hydrates

Decomposing sea organisms produce large amounts of methane gas that becomes trapped beneath a layer of super-concentrated methane ice beneath the ocean floor. When one of these pockets rupture, as they sometimes can, the gas rushes to the ocean surface without warning. If a ship is in the area when this occurs, the water below it suddenly becomes less dense and the ship could sink quite rapidly. In the past, this phenomenon has caused the sinking of several oil-drilling rigs. Where this theory falls flat is the fact that the Bermuda Triangle isn’t the only place in the world where this occurs — nor is where the highest concentration of these hydrates exist.

Not so plausible theory: Magnetic Fields

To navigate, pilots and sailors use a compass, which is calibrated to point to the earth’s Magnetic North Pole. Some theorists have said that the Bermuda Triangle is one of only two places on the planet where a compass will point to true north – the geographic location of the North Pole, located many miles northeast of magnetic north — instead of magnetic north. In fact, this last occurred in the Bermuda Triangle in the 19th century. The Earth’s magnetic north is constantly moving and modern pilots and sailors know to adjust their compass’ to compensate for the difference between true north and magnetic north.

Did you know? The difference between magnetic and geographic North Poles is called compass variation (or magnetic declination).

Learn More!

Discovery Channel’s Dive to Bermuda Triangle

HowStuffWorks – Bermuda Triangle

US Navy site – Bermuda Triangle history

Science channel – Top 10 Bermuda Triangle theories

Gian J Quasar’s site (recognized world authority on the Bermudatriangle)

Article first published March 2, 2011. Question asked by Ram from Chennai, India.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia commons

Justyna Kulpa

I am a PhD student at the University of Montreal studying estrogen receptors and their role in breast cancer.

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