HMS Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic by John Wilson Carmichael
The Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, today gave an update on this summer’s Arctic archaeological survey led by Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service to find the ill-fated 1845-1846 Franklin Expedition vessels: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
“The search for the lost Franklin vessels continues, but I can unequivocally say that this year’s survey was by far our most successful one to date,” said Minister Kent. “I would like to congratulate all our amazing partners who were part of this Canadian-led research team. They reached new heights with this project, and I look forward to seeing what new possibilities open up in time for next year’s continued search.”
This year, the search team ruled out more than 400 square kilometres in Canada’s vast Arctic waters, almost tripling the coverage of past field seasons and further narrowing the search for the elusive wrecks of the Franklin Expedition. With almost four weeks spent in the Arctic, the team employed a multitude of scientific data that will also greatly benefit Canada’s understanding and knowledge of the Arctic. Working from both the research vessel, Martin Bergmann, supplied by the Arctic Research Foundation, and Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the survey time was significantly extended compared to previous years.
In addition to Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists searching for the Franklin vessels, the broader project team included the Arctic Charting and Mapping Pilot Project, led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Canadian Hydrographic Service. This project allowed for the collection of data for the production of official navigational charts in the Arctic, while supporting, marine archaeology and eco-system management objectives.
The combined sea bed surveys led by Canadian Hydrographic Service, working closely with Parks Canada and the University of Victoria, covered 424.3 square kilometres. The survey vessels travelled a total line distance of more than 4200 kilometres; essentially covering the distance of almost two-thirds of Canada.
The survey also included the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, again contracted through the Canadian Hydrographic Service, offering an additional 879 square kilometres of bathymetry records for more shallow areas, providing crucial depth information for conducting this survey work in uncharted waters.
The research team also included a terrestrial archaeology component, led by the Government of Nunavut, which led to the recovery of additional artefacts from a known Franklin archaeology site.
The Canadian Space Agency has also been acquiring satellite imagery of the shoreline, which will offer information on shoreline characterization. The Canadian Ice Service continued to provide both historical and contemporary ice condition information to support the physical survey period, while offering additional research material for narrowing down the possible location of the shipwrecks, based on ice movement and formation. Canadian Ice Service also provided ice information to Canadian Space Agency to support the acquisition of Satellite imagery, while providing weather information to the LiDAR program and meteorology team on board the vessels. This support created significant efficiencies in the acquisition of this critical data and in operational planning for the field work.
“On behalf of the Underwater Archaeology Service of Parks Canada, I can’t extend enough gratitude to all of our partners for the tremendous effort put forth,” stated Ryan Harris, Senior Underwater Archaeologist with Parks Canada. “Along with our attempts to locate HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, this project continues to be successful due to the collaborative nature of our work. Together, our combined expertise and equipment is allowing for the mapping and charting of this region, leading to safe, navigable waters, while systematically narrowing the search for the lost Franklin vessels.”
For all partners involved, the work does not end with departure from the Arctic; data acquired will be reviewed over the coming months. Following this field season, the focus will now turn to completing a thorough assessment of all data collected, while continue dialogue with existing partners. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are the only “undiscovered” national historic site in Canada. As such, the Government of Canada remains committed to its responsibility towards the wrecks and will continue looking at and seeking out opportunities that can support such a unique project.
For additional information on these surveys, please visit Parks Canada’s website at www.parkscanada.gc.ca/franklin.