Friday, July 15, 2011

HMS Terror found

New Franklin discovery! HMS Terror found!

Well, not the actual ship, of course.

A previously unknown painting of HMS Terror , by non other than Royal Navy artist-turned-admiral Sir George Back, has been discovered and is to be auctioned off in September. They are expecting the painting to fetch $25,000.

It's a beautiful and dramatic watercolour as you can see above. Back painted it (or, more likely, sketched it before painting it later back in England) during his trouble-plagued voyage to Hudson Bay in 1836. That expedition was to cross the Melville Peninsula overland and explore the opposite shore. After being beset and nearly crushed against rock cliff outcrops and colliding with icebergs on the voyage home, HMS Terror was sinking when it was beached in Ireland in 1837.

The painting had been in the Back family until its owner passed away and the estate discovered it.

Who knows. Maybe the original will have been found by the time it goes to auction.

Painting of lost Arctic vessel HMS Terror comes to light after 175 years
By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News July 14, 2011 1:55 PM

A dramatic and previously unknown watercolour scene of Canada painted during the golden age of Arctic exploration by that era's most legendary artist has come to light in Britain after 175 years.

The image of an enormous iceberg towering above the famous Arctic expedition ship HMS Terror and one of its rowboats was painted by Royal Navy artist-turned-admiral George Back, who captained the vessel during a trouble-plagued voyage to Hudson Bay in 1836.

The painting, which has emerged from the obscurity of a Back family collection to be auctioned in London by Bonhams, is expected to fetch up to $25,000 at a maritime art sale in September.

By then, the very ship depicted in Back's long-lost painting may have been located lying on the Arctic seabed in western Nunavut.

Parks Canada announced earlier this month that it will undertake a new search in August to locate the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition รข€” the Terror and its sister vessel HMS Erebus, which were sunk by pack ice during a disastrous voyage led in the 1840s by Back's friend and mentor, Sir John Franklin.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nunavut defends rejecting Franklin search bid [Updated]

The Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth (CLEY) has come out to defend its decision to reject Ron Carlson's application for a permit search for Franklin sites from his airplane.

I remain quite unconvinced.

Doug Stenton, the department's heritage director, and the bureaucrat specifically highlighted in particular by Carlson on his blog because of the personal jail-time threats, is quoted as saying: "We feel for that reason that it's very important that these sites are investigated by individuals who have the proper experience, the proper qualifications, training. I can't think of any reason why a well-resourced, competent, professional team wouldn't get a permit."

Excuse me, but... baloney.

If that is the case then:
  • Why was the Procom expedition not approved two years ago? They had more than adequate resources, experience and professional qualifications and training. They are one of the leading underwater search experts.

  • Why was Carlson only rejected once he got there? They had nearly a year to determine whether he had the qualifications or not. Carlson was well qualified for what he was planning to do. In both cases, well-resourced, competent and professional teams were trying to advance knowledge at their own expense, for the benefit of all, agreed to provide Nunavut/Canada with all of their research and to keep it from the public so it was not misused. Each had long pedigrees of showing respect for archeological sites.

  • Why was Carlson rejected after the Inuit community actually on King William Island had approved his plans?

  • Once Carlson's permit was rejected, why threaten him with jail time for merely flying over King William Island, something CLEY had permitted him to do a few seasons ago and something they only have questionable authority to do (for just a fly-over and photography)?

  • [Update]As noted in the comments, David C. Woodman was also rejected by CLEY despite being one of the leading experts with more than adequate search history and credentials. Really makes you think something else is going on here.

  • I am somewhat grateful for CLEY coming forward instead of hiding behind a great wall of bureaucracy. And I completely understand and share the concerns they have about tourists and greedy excavators.

    But why pretend to offer permits if they are not going to be issued? They should at least clarify what the criteria are because, even according to their own criteria as stated, it seems they are rejecting fully competent expeditions.

    I completely agree with McGoogan on this. There ought to be some way to find a compromise. Most of the great advances in Franklin research has come from private enthusiasts like Robert Rondeau and Ron Carlson. Their spark and curiosity has not only resulted in most of the "finds" but also in the sense of importance of this archeology and the need to protect it, not to mention the expeditions now being conducted by Parks Canada itself.

    Nunavut defends rejecting Franklin search bid
    CBC News Posted: Jul 13, 2011 3:50 PM CT Last Updated: Jul 13, 2011 3:50 PM CT

    Nunavut government officials are defending their decision not to give a Chicago man an archeological permit to search for Sir John Franklin's grave in the Arctic.

    Nunavut heritage director Doug Stenton says the territory is not overly trying to protect high-profile undiscovered archeological sites. CBC
    Ron Carlson, a Chicago-based architect, pilot and Franklin history buff, had wanted to fly over King William Island with his DeHavilland Beaver aircraft and use thermal imaging equipment to look for the British explorer's grave.

    But Carlson told CBC News this week that his application for a territorial archeological permit was rejected just as he had arrived in Nunavut late last month.

    The territory's Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, which is responsible for issuing the permit, ruled that Carlson was not qualified.

    Doug Stenton, the department's heritage director, said many people want their name associated with Franklin, whose doomed 1845 voyage and disappearance in the Northwest Passage has fascinated historians for almost 170 years.

    "We feel for that reason that it's very important that these sites are investigated by individuals who have the proper experience, the proper qualifications, training," Stenton told CBC News on Tuesday.

    Nunavut is home to about 12,000 known archeological sites, and Stenton said his department needs to ensure the people who study those sites have the expertise and tools required to do the job.

    Skulls of members of the Franklin expedition were discovered by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson in 1945 at King William Island in Nunavut. National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press
    "We take that responsibility very seriously, and we review and consider every application on its own merits," Stenton said.

    Carlson is not the only potential Franklin searcher to have been denied a territorial permit. In 2009, Stenton's department rejected a private group's application to locate Franklin's lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

    Nunavut has supported the Canadian government's expeditions to locate Franklin's ships. Archeologists with Parks Canada are set to search in an area west of King William Island next month.

    Carlson said he feels the Nunavut government never seriously considered his application and is intentionally blocking private searchers from accessing Franklin sites.

    But Stenton insisted that it's not a case of overly protecting high-profile undiscovered archeological sites.

    "I can't think of any reason why a well-resourced, competent, professional team wouldn't get a permit," he said.

    Author and historian Ken McGoogan, who has written four books on Arctic exploration, said he does not think there was any conspiracy on the Nunavut government's part to keep Franklin searchers out.

    "I am torn with regard to the story of Carlson," McGoogan said.

    "Obviously, the government has a major role to play in making sure the sights are undisturbed. But he was only going to be flying over, so I think a compromise could have been worked out."

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    CBC reporting on bureaucratic interference with Carlson's expedition

    Ron Carlson's plans have been foiled by bureaucrats.

    And now it is hitting the news.

    If you have been following Ron Carlson's very interesting and different search for Franklin graves using fly-over thermal photography closely on his blog (as we have), then you will already know the almost Kafka-esque permitting mountain he attempted, and failed, to climb.

    Carlson provides the gory details here (short version) and here (long version). Carlson remembers that he is not the only one to receive this kind of treatment from the Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth (CLEY) here.

    Carlson wonders if CLEY and Parks Canada are jealously protecting Franklin relics and possible Franklin finds (most especially the lost ships themselves) for themselves. And even if they are, in fact, going so far as to collect possible search expedition sites and technologies from the elaborate and detailed applications for permits they have no intention of providing.

    Perhaps that is why we haven't heard a single word from or about Bear Gryls "find" in the James Ross Strait area.

    Maybe with this kind of publicity, we will get some reaction from the bureaucrats at CLEY. Even if they don't explain themselves, and why criminal charges and threats of jail time were necessary for such innocuous activity, they could at least lay out some clearer criteria for when they may actually issue a permit.

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Time, Canada, to negotiate the Northwest Passage

    On my list of summer must-reads is Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North by Michael Byers. Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC and is a project leader with ArcticNet, a federally-funded consortium of scientists from 30 Canadian universities and eight federal departments.

    So when Michael Byers says something about the Arctic and about sovereignty, it is probably worth your while to pay attention.

    And this is a worthwhile read from him, not just for Franklin-o-philes and those passionate about the Northwest Passage, not just for those who accept the reality of a quickly melting Arctic, but for anyone in government who might have a chance to catch the ear of our Prime Minister.

    My hope is that all of Prime Minister Harper's bungling and sabre rattling and falsehood on the "threats" to our "sovereignty" in the Arctic was just electioneering in an ever-threatened minority government situation. And that now, with the stability he sold us on, he will start leading and doing the right things that actually protect and benefit the Arctic and his country.

    Michael Byers hopes so too. And he know of what he speaks.

    And of what he writes.

    Time, Canada, to negotiate the Northwest Passage

    By Michael Byers
    Special to CBC News
    Posted: Jul 5, 2011 5:51 PM ET

    With Arctic sea ice melting, at up to three times faster than scientists were predicting, the international battle over the polar region and the Northwest Passage, in particular, is also heating up. This week Moscow sent a nuclear-powered icebreaker to explore the extent of its northern continental shelf while Canada announced that this summer's annual military exercise in the Arctic will be the largest in recent history.

    UBC's Michael Byers, the author of Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North, says it is time for the federal government to start formally negotiating the rules around the Northwest Passage with the international community, the Americans especially.

    Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. He is a project leader with ArcticNet, a federally-funded consortium of scientists from 30 Canadian universities and eight federal departments and is the author of Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North.
    It's never been easy for Canada to talk about the Northwest Passage with the U.S. The passage was the holy grail for explorers from Cabot to Hudson and Franklin, whose discoveries helped define our northern nation.

    The Northwest Passage also constitutes Canada's most significant long-standing dispute with the U.S. It's a source of both pride and anxiety in our close but asymmetrical relationship.

    Still, we've managed to talk before. In 1988, Brian Mulroney resolved the sovereignty challenge posed by U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers. In return for Ronald Reagan agreeing that such ships would request permission from Canada, Mulroney promised that permission would be routinely granted.

    Our current prime minister, however, seems to have missed that lesson in pragmatic diplomacy.

    In fact, during his very first press conference as prime minister back in January 2006, Stephen Harper took aim at then U.S. ambassador David Wilkins for having simply reiterated Washington's longstanding position — that the Northwest Passage is an international strait open to foreign shipping.

    "It is the Canadian people we get our mandate from," said Harper, "not the ambassador from the United States."

    It was a potentially damaging rebuke, for just a few months earlier, Paul Cellucci, Wilkins's predecessor, had revealed that he had asked the U.S. State Department to re-examine Washington's position.

    Cellucci's concern was that terrorists might take advantage of ice-free conditions to enter North America or transport weapons of mass destruction via its largely unguarded northern coast.

    Cellucci went so far as to suggest publicly that Canada's position — that the Northwest Passage constitutes "internal waters" where foreign vessels are subject to the full force of Canadian law — might now work for the U.S.

    Setting a precedent
    From where I sat, as the holder of a Canada Research Chair in international law at UBC, it looked as if the prime minister had just blown off an invitation to negotiate. My University of Montreal colleague Suzanne Lalonde and I decided to investigate.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk while standing on an iceberg near Resolute, Nunavut, in August 2010. It was the Harper's fourth trip to the Far North in as many years. (Chris Wattie/Reuters) In Washington, we met with J. Ashley Roach, the straight-shooting diplomat then charged with U.S. policy on the law of the sea.

    We knew that Washington's position was based on a concern that any concession on the Northwest Passage might create a precedent for other waterways, such as the Strait of Hormuz where oil tankers steam out of the Persian Gulf and freedom of navigation is contested by Iran.

    Couldn't you sidestep the notion of setting an international precedent, we suggested, by accepting that the Northwest Passage is unique? We pointed to the passage's considerable length, the frequent presence of sea ice, and the consequent near-absence of shipping — indeed, only 69 full voyages had taken place since 1906.

    Roach's reply was that the Pentagon was especially concerned about setting a precedent, which we took to mean that the State Department might have a less rigid view.

    We pointed out that maintaining access to the Northwest Passage should not be a concern, since Canada would never deny entry to a close ally.

    "The United States understand that," Roach said.

    Thanking him for his candour, we left for our next meeting, with four diplomats at the Canadian Embassy.

    After we'd sketched the outlines of our discussion with Roach, they looked at each other with visible regret. "I'm glad you went to the State Department," the most senior of them said. "We're not allowed to talk about the Northwest Passage with the United States."

    Open waters
    Five months later, in July 2007, Harper bluntly stated that "Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty in the Arctic. Either we use it or we lose it."

    The message to the international community was clear: Canada wasn't interesting in compromising its go-it-alone position.

    But the scale of the challenges we face in the North changed dramatically in September 2007 when there was a massive retreat of Arctic sea ice and, for the first time, the entire Northwest Passage was open to shipping.

    It now appears possible that the thick, hard multi-year ice that poses the greatest risk to ships will disappear forever within five to 10 years. The Northwest Passage will then resemble the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where ice-strengthened vessels and icebreaker-escorted convoys can operate safely throughout the year.

    The prospect of increased shipping, of course, brings with it security and environmental risks like smuggling, terrorism and oil spills that often transcend boundaries.

    And the fact is that neither Canada nor the U.S. with its long Alaskan coastline is able to address these challenges adequately on its own.

    Perhaps with this in mind, the U.S. has now embarked on an unprecedented amount of Arctic co-operation. The State Department recently led the negotiation of an Arctic-wide search-and-rescue treaty designed to coordinate multinational responses to shipping and aviation disasters.

    The U.S. Air Force has partnered with Russia in testing a joint response to any hijacking of a civilian aircraft in international airspace. The U.S. Coast Guard has, for four summers now, sent an icebreaker to the Beaufort Sea to map the ocean floor in tandem with a Canadian vessel.

    The time is ripe
    Washington is also working within the Arctic Council and International Maritime Organization to develop co-operative mechanisms for oil spill clean-ups and fisheries management, as well as on safety standards for polar shipping.

    At the same time, the U.S. appears to understand that Harper's Arctic rhetoric has always been aimed at Canada's electorate and not necessarily its international partners.

    As a U.S. diplomat explained in a cable released by WikiLeaks: "The persistent high public profile which this government has accorded 'Northern Issues' and the Arctic is … unprecedented and reflects the PM's views that 'the North has never been more important to our country' — although one could perhaps paraphrase to state 'the North has never been more important to our Party.'"

    Perhaps now, with a majority government and a bit of partisan breathing room, the prime minister can finally pursue the opening created by Cellucci six years ago.

    It's time to negotiate the Northwest Passage dispute; to talk about the commitments — on access, policing and search-and-rescue — that the U.S. might wish from Canada, in return for recognizing our claim to this passage as "internal waters."

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    More details on 2011 searches

    Some of the details of the planned Parks Canada searches for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are being reported on. (Prior related post.)

    The two-phased search - phase 1 in July going back to the HMS Investigator wreck and phase 2 in August searching for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror - appears to be three phases, or at least the second phase for the search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror will be done in two parts: one part searching off the west coast of King William Island in the vicinity of where the ships were abandoned and one part searching in the Queen Maud Gulf region where Inuit testimony collected by Charles Francis Hall indicates one of the ships may have been wrecked. According to the Parks Canada backgrounder:

    The 2011 search for the Franklin vessels will shift northward from the O’Reilly Island area to Victoria Strait where the second vessel is thought to have foundered. This new area is a priority for CHS and CCG in their mandate to promote the safety of shipping though the principal navigation corridors of the Canadian Arctic and Parks Canada will take advantage of this opportunity to embark on the search for the second vessel.

    So that is good. More of the historical information does lead one to the Queen Maud Gulf region as the last resting place of at least one of the ships.

    Interestingly, according to this report, "the search area has been whittled down from notes and messages that were written by crew members before their deaths, by oral histories passed down through generations of Inuit, and by other means of archeological sleuthing. [...] “We do have clues,” said lead investigator Marc-Andre Bernier. “We know where the ships were abandoned." "

    Which, of course, is quite interesting because this is not actually altogether crystal clear according to David Woodman's investigations of Inuit oral testimony given to Charles Francis Hall and others. We may know where the ships were originally abandoned, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest the ships, or at least one of them, were re-manned and sailed again, likely to the Queen Maud Gulf region and perhaps even near O'Reilley Island. Which Parks Canada will fortunately be searching.

    On the search technology front, we now know that Parks Canada will deploy an unmanned underwater vehicle, courtesy of the University of Victoria, with frigid water search capabilities which will cover some 100-square-kilometres with surface searches covering another 200-square-kilometres. The underwater vehicle can run for 16 hours a day before needing to have its battery recharged, apparently. According to the Parks Canada backgrounder:

    In addition to technologies already deployed which included side-scan sonar and multi-beam bathymetry, the Parks Canada-led search for the Franklin vessels will enlist a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) supplied by the University of Victoria. The AUV uses a newly developed, high-resolution side-scan sonar and swath bathymetry sensor package which could allow the study of a larger area than that covered in the two previous years combined.

    So that is also good. The technology, the search area and building on three years of Parks Canada expedition research (as well as the research of many other explorers) will provide the greatest opportunity yet to find the wrecks of the missing ships or their last resting places.

    And perhaps find another piece of this 160 year old Arctic puzzle.

    Updates on the 2011 Parks Canada Arctic search expeditions will presumably be posted to or linked to from this Parks Canada site.

    The Parks Canada press release yesterday is here, with one of the backgrounders here. Some more media coverage here and here, though there is not much more information in those news reports.

    More details as I come across it.

    HMS Investigator, discovered last year by Parks Canada after 3 minutes of searching in Mercy Bay, Banks Island.