The Titanic's latest foe is a wee bit smaller than an iceberg: A newly discovered bacterium is eating away at the wreck as it slumbers on the ocean floor, reports Discover. The iron-eating species, named Halomonas titanicae, has 50,000 tons of iron to get through, but it may not take it long to do so: The Titanic has been underwater 98 years, and one study coauthor tells Our Amazing Planet she now fears it may only have 15 to 20 years left. "It’s deteriorating much faster" than she previously thought, and "eventually there will be nothing left but a rust stain," she says.
"What is fascinating to me is that we tend to have this idea that these wrecks are time capsules frozen in time, when in fact there [are] all kinds of complex ecosystems feeding off them," says a maritime historian. Researchers believe the bacteria help to create icicle-shaped rust, or "rusticles," in which 27 different bacteria—including Halomonas titanicae—live. The rusticles grow and eventually disintegrate, "recycling the iron and returning it to nature," says the coauthor. The authors add that the possibility exists that the bacterium could also be harming offshore oil and gas pipelines, and say that studying it "may also equip us to devise coatings that can prevent similar deterioration to other metal structures."