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

2013 Search Expedition for Franklin’s Ships, HMS Erebus And HMS Terror

The Government of Canada is pleased to again embark on an Arctic expedition of international significance to search for the lost vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, from the ill-fated Sir John Franklin voyage. The 2013 expedition is a continuation of Parks Canada's Underwater Archaeology Service (UAS) surveys conducted in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

For the fifth field season Parks Canada's Underwater Archaeology Service will participate with existing partners; Arctic Research Foundation, Government of Nunavut, Canadian Coast Guard (DFO), Canadian Hydrographic Service (DFO), Canadian Ice Service (EC) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA). As with past years, this work will be conducted with the support of the Gjoa Haven Community and the Inuit Heritage Trust, as well as the Government of Great Britain. This season, the Canadian-led research team, will again bring a multi-disciplinary approach that will share resources and data, contributing to the safe navigation and environmental knowledge of the Canadian Arctic

This year, Parks Canada is pleased to have garnered the support of new partners, Defence Research & Development Canada (DRDC) and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Personnel from the RCN and DRDC will provide technical assistance with some of Parks Canada's newly acquired remote-sensing technologies, during the five and a half week survey aboard the Research Vessel Martin Bergmann. DRDC has also provided Parks Canada with an additional military-grade, side-scan sonar system that will allow significantly more area to be covered on any given survey day.

The search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is anticipated to take place from August 10 – September 19.. Weather and ice conditions permitting, the search areas will again include both the southern search area near O'Reilly Island, 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.

The Arctic Research Foundation's Martin Bergmann is expected to deploy on August 10, 2013 from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and begin surveying in the southern search area. The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, will provide surveying support to the archaeologists for seven days, from August 22- 28, rendezvousing with the Martin Bergmann in the northern search area.

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

Survey technology for this year will include towed side-scan sonar, equipped with single-beam echo-sounder for the collection of bathymetry, from the Martin Bergmann. In addition, Parks Canada's UAS has acquired a new Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), equipped with high-resolution side-scan sonar and a new remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), equipped with high-definition video camera and sector-scanning sonar system, which will play a critical role in authenticating any seafloor anomalies, such as a shipwreck or its detached debris. The DRDC additional side-scan sonar system will be towed behind the UAS Research Vessel Investigator, which will be deployed from the Sir Wilfrid Laurier during the 7-day survey targeting Victoria Strait.

As part of this collaborative effort, in 2012 the Government of Canada and the Government of Nunavut signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a framework for the ongoing cooperation and coordination for the research, search and preservation activities regarding HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, along with associated submerged archaeological resources. The Government of Nunavut is the permitting authority for all archaeology research conducted in Nunavut, and will again participate in the Franklin survey conducting a land-based archaeological search. The terrestrial archaeology team will accompany the expedition aboard the Sir Wilfrid Laurier and focus their land survey in the Erebus Bay region.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in August 1997 between Great Britain, as owner of the vessels, and Canada, as the nation in whose water they were lost. If found, the MOU assigns control over site investigation, excavation or recovery of either wrecks or their contents to Canada. Mandated to protect and present subjects of national significance, Parks Canada is the responsible federal agency for the search and subsequent preservation of the vessels.

Sir John Franklin's two lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are designated together as a national historic site of Canada – the only such 'undiscovered' national historic site – due to the importance of Franklin's voyage and his ships to the history of Arctic navigation and exploration. The discovery of either or both wrecks, or their contents, will offer unprecedented information on the search for the Northwest Passage, the exploration of Canada's North, early Inuit-European contact and the fate of Sir John Franklin. HMS Erebus, HMS Terror and their crew are also a testament to the history shared between Canada and Great Britain.