History

Ice cover cooperates in Franklin search — for now

First surveying trip a success, but tougher conditions beckon
  • Aug 21, 2014
  • 309 words
  • 2 minutes
Side-scan sonar used in this summer’s Franklin search Expand Image
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The first surveying trip of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition is wrapping up, with the crew of the research vessel Martin Bergmann making the 24-hour journey back to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to resupply.

Parks Canada’s underwater archaeology team surveyed in the Queen Maud Gulf for 52 straight hours, using side-scan sonar. The early focus this year was on Wilmot and Crampton bays, areas where Inuit in the 19th century claimed to have spotted a mast protruding from the water.

“It was the largest stretch of benign weather that we’ve had since we started surveying in 2008,” says Parks Canada archaeologist Ryan Harris, who is helping lead the search for Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, Erebus and Terror. “We picked up where we left off last year, surveying 60.75 square kilometres.”

The ice-free and calm waters of the Queen Maud Gulf made for ideal surveying during the most recent search period. Looking forward, however, conditions seem somewhat less promising. The central Arctic is experiencing an especially heavy ice year, with ice covering upward of 90 per cent of the ocean’s surface in the Victoria Strait and parts of Peel Sound.

“We’ve had a really good run when it comes to ice cover allowing us to do our work,” Harris says. “It’s been very clear of ice during our surveys. The exception was 2009, when we didn’t have a platform to search from anyway, so it was a good year to miss. We were due for a change of fortune, and it’s not looking terribly promising at the moment. It’s hard not to think of what Franklin and his men were facing when they were beset in Larsen Sound. It’s quite possible that the Erebus and Terror were faced with a very similar situation to what we’re seeing this year when they were caught in the ice.”

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