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The Underwater Archaeology Search for Franklin's Lost Vessels: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site

Past Expeditions

2010 Expedition - Results

The shipwreck search area around O'Reilly Island The shipwreck search area around O'Reilly Island (middle left) captured by Jonathan Moore from 24,000 feet during a flight from Gjoa Haven (Nunavut) to Yellowknife (Northwest Territories)
© Parks Canada

Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service (UAS) began this year’s survey in search of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror on August 18, 2010, working collaboratively with the Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS). The overall search area of interest included zones southeast and northeast of O’Reilly Island, located just west of the Adelaide Peninsula in the Queen Maud Gulf. For the 2010 survey season, the search team began with and completed the southeast zone; some surveying was completed in the zone northeast of the island.

Much of Canada’s Arctic waters remain uncharted, affecting safe navigation for small and large vessels alike. Indeed, during the 2008 survey season, CHS and UAS efforts were focused on charting a navigable approach corridor to the O’Reilly Island search area; the joint UAS and CHS team successfully surveyed a 65-kilometre long approach corridor through previously uncharted waters. This paid dividends in 2010 as the Sir Wilfrid Laurier was able to transport the team close to the search area and to remain on station nearby during survey day.

In 2010 two CHS survey launches, Gannet and Kinglett, deployed single-beam echo-sounders and towed side-scan sonar systems. Using the launches the team was able to complete six full days of surveying in the search area. Weather conditions were generally very cooperative for the duration of the survey, permitting approximately 12 hours of survey time on the first day, and 16 hours for each of the remaining five days. The total survey time throughout the six days for each launch thus amounted to approximately 92 hours, or about 184 hours combined. No sea ice whatsoever was observed in the search area in the course of the survey.

Given the favourable weather and survey conditions, the team has determined that it is unlikely that either of the Franklin vessels is to be found in the surveyed area southeast of O’Reilly Island. That being said, a careful review of the collected sonar data is currently underway to ensure that no subtle targets were missed. Once the southeastern area had been completed, the team directed its efforts northeast of O’Reilly Island and devoted the remaining one and a half days of survey time to this zone. No targets were identified during this short period.

The combined shipwreck search and bathymetric survey concluded on August 23, 2010 and resulted in the collection of approximately 400,000 seafloor soundings around O’Reilly Island. In aggregate, the two launches followed nearly 1,000 km of survey lines, scanning in excess of 150 square kilometres of sea-floor in the process.

Parks Canada is pleased with the results of this 2010 survey, given that such a sizeable survey area was covered in such a short period of time In addition to ruling out the zone southeast of O’Reilly Island as a likely resting place for either of the Franklin vessels, the team was able to survey previously uncharted waters and gathered a substantial amount of information on the underwater topography of the Queen Maud Gulf.

Working with the crew of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the CHS team was a distinct pleasure for UAS team members Ryan Harris and Jonathan Moore. Without exception, these cheerful individuals were dedicated, professional, and always at the ready with a helping hand. The Coast Guard crew, led by Captain Bill Noon and Chief Officer Richard Marriott were instrumental in ensuring that the survey team was able to make the most of the scheduled opportunity. A special note of thanks is due to the Coast Guard coxswains who spent hour after hour navigating meticuolously straight survey lines aboard the Gannet and Kinglett. Many thanks are also due to Hydrographer-in-Charge Andrew Leyzack (CHS) who oversaw much of the logistical preparation prior to deployment and who remains a vital partner in the cooperative shipwreck search effort. Lastly, the UAS is grateful to Parks Canada’s Keri Spink for her tireless work coordinating the project website and media requests.

Although no targets of interest were located, each area of the Arctic seafloor that is comprehensively surveyed brings us closer to determining the final resting place of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. To this end, the 2010 expedition made a significant contribution to longstanding efforts to understand what happened to these two storied vessels.

Following each field season, the UAS evaluates the delivery and success of its research projects in order to help define the course of future fieldwork. In preparation for a slated third field season, Parks Canada will consult with existing and potential partners to determine the schedule and approach for the continued search for Franklin’s lost vessels. Parks Canada looks forward to sharing future plans regarding the search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, as more details are finalized.