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

Past Expeditions

August 2012 Search Expedition to find Franklin’s ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

The 2012 expedition is a continuation of Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service (UAS) surveys conducted in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Partners included Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard, as well as the Government of Nunavut, the community of Gjoa Haven and the Inuit Heritage Trust. The project garnered new partners for the 2011 field season, including the University of Victoria’s Ocean Technology Laboratory and Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service. Consultations were held regularly with the British High Commission. This project contributed significantly to the research and surveying for the vessels in various ways, while surveying approximately 350 square kilometres of previously uncharted Arctic waters.

In the final season of the project, Parks Canada secured the support of new partners, the Arctic Research Foundation and Canadian Space Agency, who expressed their interest in, and support for, continuing the search. This new support, along with the continued support of existing partners, has allowed Parks Canada to continue the archaeological expedition in search of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

This Canadian-led research team, composed of research and technical experts, brings a multi-disciplinary approach that will share resources and use innovative technologies to achieve a number of complementary objectives for each respective organization including the Arctic Charting and Mapping Pilot Project, led by the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
© Parks Canada.
Research Vessel Martin Bergmann Research Vessel Martin Bergmann.
© Arctic Research Foundation

The Canadian Coast Guard ship, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, will provide surveying support to the archeologists and hydrographic staff for a two-week period with the team deploying from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, on August 23. In addition, the Arctic Research Foundation, in consultation with Parks Canada, is conducting final preparations for the research vessel Martin Bergmann, for use by the underwater archaeology team in the search efforts. This 65-foot, former Newfoundland fishing vessel, has been refitted specifically for this archaeological expedition and will significantly extend the survey time, with a dedicated approximate four week program through the month of September.

Past partners will again provide support and research technology to the team, including side-scan sonar, single-beam bathymetry and multi-beam bathymetry. Airborne survey data will be overseen by the Canadian Hydrographic Service for the collection of additional bathymetric and shallow-water data acquisition. An archaeologist from the Government of Nunavut will be joining the survey team to search for any indication of possible shore remains in the area that may be related to the Franklin expedition.

Parks Canada will be working closely with the University of Victoria to employ their autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) in the search efforts. The AUV uses a newly developed, high-resolution side-scan sonar and swath bathymetry sensor package that will help extend the survey area. The team is also using research information gathered and analyzed by the Canadian Ice Service, as well as satellite-based, remote-sensing data supplied by the Canadian Space Agency to chart shoreline and shoal features.

Weather and ice conditions permitting, the search areas will include both the O’Reilly Island area, west of the Adelaide peninsula and where Inuit oral tradition places one of the shipwrecks, and further north to Victoria Strait and Alexandra Strait, where the other vessel is believed to be located.