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.


Russell Potter said...

Ted, thanks very much for these additional details. Well, I agree with you that the search area for Franklin's ships is in the right general area -- let's hope for good fortune, and the longest possible window in which to do this work. The details on the AUV also sound promising -- this is just how I'd hope it might be equipped!

Cynthia Bazinet said...

This is a great post. I'm looking forward to reading updates and am hopeful that Parks Canada will be forthcoming with information as they come across it.