How the Bermuda Triangle Works

Plausible Theories
Sea surface roughness in the Gulf Stream, captured by NASA's Terra satellite on April 18, 2004.
Sea surface roughness in the Gulf Stream, captured by NASA's Terra satellite on April 18, 2004.
Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Most rational explanations for the incidents in the Bermuda Triangle, including the explanations given by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, include human error and environmental effects. The area is one of the most highly trafficked for amateur pilots and sailors, so more traffic leads to more accidents and disappearances.

Weather Patterns and Topography

The area is subject to violent and unexpected storms and weather changes. These short but intense storms can build up quickly, dissipate quickly, and go undetected by satellite surveillance. Waterspouts that could easily destroy a passing plane or ship are also not uncommon. A waterspout is simply a tornado at sea that pulls water from the ocean surface thousands of feet into the sky. Other possible environmental effects include underwater earthquakes, as scientists have found a great deal of seismic activity in the area. Scientists have also spotted freak waves up to 100 feet high.

The underwater topography of the area may also be a factor. It goes from a gently sloping continental shelf to an extremely deep drop-off. In fact, some of the deepest trenches in the world are found in the area of the Bermuda Triangle. Ships or planes that sink into these deep trenches will probably never be found.

The Gulf Stream, where the Triangle is located, is extremely swift and turbulent. It can pose extreme navigational challenges, especially for inexperienced sailors. The Gulf Stream has been reported to move faster than 5 mph in some areas - more than fast enough to throw sailors hundreds of miles off course if they don't compensate correctly for the current. It can also quickly erase any evidence of a disaster.

Crystalline methane hydrate deposits
Crystalline methane hydrate deposits
Image courtesy Office of Naval Research

Methane Gas Hydrates

This theory appears to hold promise for at least some of the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. Scientists at Cardiff University have discovered the presence of large concentrations of methane gas trapped in the ocean floor. This gas is due to dying and decomposing sea organisms. The sediment contains bacteria that produce methane, which accumulates as super concentrated methane ice, called gas hydrates. The layer of ice traps the methane gas, and scientists are studying it as a potential energy source.

Within seconds of a methane gas pocket rupturing, the gas surges up and erupts on the surface without warning. If a ship is in the area of the blowout, the water beneath it would suddenly become much less dense. The vessel could sink and sediment could quickly cover it as it settles onto the sea floor. Even planes flying overhead could catch fire during such a blowout. Although he doesn't agree with the methane hydrate theory as an explanation for the Bermuda Triangle, Bill Dillon, a research geologist with the United States Geological Survey said that, "On several occasions, oil drilling rigs have sunk as the result of gas escape."

The U.S.S. Winston S. Churchill follows a suspected pirate vessel in 2006.
The U.S.S. Winston S. Churchill follows a suspected pirate vessel in 2006.
Image by U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Anderson courtesy U.S. Department of Defense


While historical pirates like Blackbeard or the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow of "Pirates of the Caribbean" may not be likely candidates for disappearances, modern pirates might be. In the 1970s and '80s, drug runners often pirated boats to smuggle drugs. This theory could also bear some truth during wartime. Check out How Pirates Work for more information about piracy and real-life pirates.

Although these theories (among others) probably account for disappearances in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, many people still prefer to believe that aliens, electronic fog or another supernatural phenomenon must be the cause. As long as those theories exist, the Bermuda Triangle will remain a source of fascination and mystery.

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