Wreckage of The Titanic Found in 1985

The idea of finding the wreck of Titanic, and even raising the ship from the ocean floor, had been around since shortly after the ship sank. No attempts were successful until  September 1,1985, when a joint American-French expedition, led by Jean-Louis Michel and Dr. Robert Ballard located the wreck using the side-scan sonar from the research vessels. The most notable discovery the team made was that the ship had split apart, the stern section lying 1,970 feet (600 m) from the bow section and facing opposite directions. There had been conflicting witness accounts of whether the ship broke apart or not, and both the American and British inquiries found that the ship sank intact. Up until the discovery of the wreck, it was generally assumed that the ship did not break apart.

Surrounding the wreck is a large debris field with pieces of the ship, furniture, dinnerware and personal items scattered over one square mile  Softer materials, like wood, carpet and human remains had apparently been devoured by undersea organisms. Dr. Ballard and his team did not bring up any artifacts from the site, considering this to be tantamount to grave robbing.

Under international maritime law, however, the recovery of artifacts is necessary to establish salvage rights to a shipwreck. In the years after the find, Titanic has been the object of a number of court cases concerning ownership of artifacts and the wreck site itself.  In 1994, RMS Titanic Inc. was awarded ownership and salvaging rights of the wreck, even though RMS Titanic Inc. and other salvaging expeditions have been criticized for taking items from the wreck.  Approximately 6,000 artifacts have been removed from the wreck. Many of these were put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, and later as part of a traveling museum exhibit.

A new expedition using sonar technology and high-resolution optical video and imaging has been started by RMS Titanic Inc. to document the wreck site. The new effort, Expedition Titanic , will deploy the most advanced 3D HD film and acoustic modeling to bring Titanic to life. The high-resolution photos and video are expected to reveal never-before-seen parts of Titanic. The 20-day expedition will use remotely operated submersibles to complete an unprecedented archaeological analysis of the two-by three-mile debris field, including Titanicís two halves.

Many scientists, including Robert Ballard, are concerned that visits by tourists in submersibles and the recovery of artefacts are hastening the decay of the wreck. Underwater microbes have been eating away at Titanic's steel since the ship sank, but because of the extra damage visitors have caused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that "the hull and structure of the ship may collapse to the ocean floor within the next 50 years.