Bermuda Triangle: History, Mystery & Theories

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Bermuda Triangle is one of the modern world's favorite mysteries. In this lesson, we'll examine the history behind this legend and see how scientists have tried to explain it.

The Bermuda Triangle

The mysteries of the ocean have fascinated people for thousands of years. The magnetic draw of the sea, the dangers, and the troves of various treasures within it keep us continuously intrigued. However, few things have caused as much debate as the mysterious disappearance of people to the seas. Ancient sailors attributed these events to gods, monsters, and spirits. Since then, modern scientists and sailors have come to see the sea's dangers as natural and completely explainable…mostly.

The Bermuda Triangle is a roughly 500,000 square mile region of the Caribbean, located between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico. While the name was first coined by reporter Vincent Gaddis in 1964, this region has attracted attention for generations. The thing is, there actually has been a large number of unexplained disappearances within the Bermuda Triangle. Both ships and aircrafts have went missing and were never recovered. So, what's going on in the Bermuda Triangle? Maybe the seas still have some mysteries left for us to solve.

The Bermuda Triangle
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Notable Disappearances

While this heavily trafficked part of the Caribbean has seen its fair share of shipwrecks, a few in particular have fed into the legend of the so-called Devil's Triangle. First was the USS Cyclops, a US Navy coal ship that was lost in 1918. After leaving port in Bermuda, it was never heard from again. With 306 passengers aboard and no wreckage ever found, it was the single largest loss of life from a non-military event in Navy history, and one the most enduring mysteries.

Perhaps the most famous disappearance, however, is that of Flight 19 in 1945, also known as the ''Lost Squadron''. Five navy planes took off from Fort Lauderdale on what was supposed to be a routine flight. However, the commander reported 90 minutes later that compasses and navigational tools weren't working. After a final transmission was received around 7 pm, the pilots were never heard from again, and their planes were never recovered.

The story of the ''Lost Squadron'' has had the most impact on the Bermuda Triangle legend, encouraged by the fact that one of the planes sent to recover the Lost Squadron also disappeared. More likely than not, the planes ran out of fuel, crashed in the sea, and quickly sank under the 50-foot waves of a storm that night.

Navy planes of the same sort as Flight 19
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Theories

Simple navigational errors may explain the disappearance of Flight 19, but how do we account for the numerous other aircraft and boats that have been lost in this region over the years? And why do we rarely, if ever, find wreckage from any of the lost vessels? Several theories have emerged, ranging from electromagnetic fogs to sea monsters to aliens and the lost civilization of Atlantis. A few theories, however, have gained slightly more recognition.

The Methane Gas Theory

One theory, popularized in the 2000s, is that pockets of methane gas could be escaping from the sea floor and bubbling to the surface. Methane is highly flammable and after being pressurized near the sea floor, could be extra volatile. We know from the geological record that methane gas has been trapped in ice or under soils at various points in history, so it's not too crazy of an idea. The association of this theory with the Bermuda Triangle comes from a 2015 study in Norway that associated massive underwater craters with methane explosions. Could similar explosions have sunk ships in the Bermuda Triangle? Maybe, but with no solid evidence, the theory is not widely supported.

Magnetism

Another theory has to do with magnetism. For centuries, sailors have noticed that their compasses get a little wacky in this region. According to tradition, Columbus himself even noted the phenomenon, and there's actually something to this. The Bermuda Triangle is one of the only places on Earth where compasses align with true north, rather than magnetic north. That's a difference of roughly 20 degrees, and for those who aren't prepared, the navigational discrepancy could lead them to sail into coral reefs, strong currents, or other boat-sinking obstacles.

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