Graveyard of the Atlantic
The Bermuda Triangle region has some unusual features. It's one of only two places on Earth—the other being an area nicknamed the Devil's Sea off the east coast of Japan, which has a similar mysterious reputation—where true north and magnetic north line up, which could make compass readings dicey [sidebar].
It is also home to some of the deepest underwater trenches in the world; wreckage could settle in a watery grave miles below the surface of the ocean. Most of the sea floor in the Bermuda Triangle is about 19,000 feet (5,791 meters) down; near its southern tip, the Puerto Rico Trench dips at one point to 27,500 (8,229 meters) feet below sea level.
Treacherous shoals and reefs can be found along the continental shelf. Strong currents over the reefs constantly breed new navigational hazards, according to the Coast Guard.
Then there's the weather.
"The biggest issues in that area normally are hurricanes, but it's not particularly a spawning area for storms," said Dave Feit, chief of the marine forecast branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Prediction Center.
However, Feit pointed out, the Gulf Stream travels along the western edge of the triangle and could be a factor. The Gulf Stream is like a 40- to 50-mile-wide (64- to 80-kilometer-wide) river within the ocean that circulates in the North Atlantic Ocean. The warm water and two- to four-knot currents can create weather patterns that remain channeled within it.
"If you have the right atmospheric conditions, you could get quite unexpectedly high waves," said Feit. "If wave heights are eight feet outside of the Gulf Stream, they could be two or even three times higher within it. Sailors can sometimes identify the Gulf Stream by the clouds and thunderstorms over it."
The Coast Guard also notes that unpredictable Caribbean-Atlantic storms can yield waterspouts that often spell disaster for pilots and mariners.
Still, given a choice between the horrifying idea of a giant squid's tentacles wrestling an innocent ship to the sea floor, or an alien abduction, versus human error, shoddy engineering, and a temperamental Mother Nature—who could resist the legend of the Bermuda Triangle?