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High-Tech Sleuthing Key To Hunt For Ships In Arctic (Video)

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(N.Morgan) In the quest to locate the Franklin Expedition shipwreck, it took an arsenal of electronic devices to hunt down the wreckage.There were multi-beam 3D sonar towfishes, pinging off uncharted Arctic seabed, as hydrographers’ boats found the clearest paths to prime search areas. Underwater archeologists used less sophisticated sidescan sonar, towed behind a boat, to scan the seafloor for telltale shapes that could lead them to a wreck. The Klein System 3000, a silver bullet-nosed towfish with two black fins, delivered big time by creating the sonar image that gave Parks Canada underwater archeologists that eureka moment last week. But it was their Falcon Seaeye remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, that put eyes on one of Sir John Franklin’s three-masters for the first time since Inuit reported seeing the deserted vessel floating on an ice floe in the mid-19th century.

 

 

 

 

 

The Franklin Expedition was a British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Captain Sir John Franklin that departed England in 1845. A Royal Navy officer and experienced explorer, Franklin had served on three previous Arctic expeditions, the latter two as commanding officer. His fourth and last, undertaken when he was 59, was meant to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. After a few early fatalities, the two ships became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. The entire expedition complement, including Franklin and 128 men, was lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pressed by Franklin’s wife and others, the Admiralty launched a search for the missing expedition in 1848. Prompted in part by Franklin’s fame and the Admiralty’s offer of a finder’s reward, many subsequent expeditions joined the hunt, which at one point in 1850 involved eleven British and two American ships. Several of these ships converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, where the first relics of the expedition were found, including the graves of three crewmen. In 1854, explorer John Rae, while surveying near the Canadian Arctic coast southeast of King William Island, acquired relics of and stories about the Franklin party from the Inuit. A search led by Francis Leopold McClintock in 1859 discovered a note left on King William Island with details about the expedition’s fate. Searches continued through much of the 19th century. In 2014, one of the ships was located west of O’Reilly Island, in the eastern portion of Queen Maud Gulf, in the waters of the Arctic archipelago.

 

 

 

 

 

The technology used to locate the wreck was extraordinary.The ROV was attached by fiber optic cables to a control unit piloted by senior underwater archeologist Ryan Harris. In rolling seas, battling currents and looming Arctic darkness, he deftly steered the ROV toward the wreck to get stunning video from the vehicle’s high-resolution camera. He had to be extremely careful not to collide with the wreck, more to protect the integrity of the historic site than to avoid damaging the ROV. Surveyors also used LiDAR, or laser technology that creates incredibly detailed images from the air and on land. Douglas Stenton, Nunavut’s director of heritage, and Robert Park, a University of Waterloo archeology professor also used LiDAR to map the crucial discovery of pieces of a wooden deck plug from a Franklin Expedition ship.

 

 

They borrowed the expensive equipment from S. Brooke Milne, an anthropology professor at the University of Manitoba, to field test it during about of month of mapping archeology sites. LiDAR images give the archeologists an exquisitely detailed map of site surfaces so they can detect even the slightest impact of tourism on Nunavut’s heritage. It proved essential when two pieces of a deck plug from one of the Franklin Expedition ships was found on land last week, a discovery that lead to the historic find of the sunken wreck. Some of the most cutting-edge devices deployed in the search were made by Canadian firms.

 

 

They include Arctic Explorer, an autonomous underwater vehicle, or robot sub, more than seven meters long. It was built by International Submarine Engineering Ltd. in Port Coquitlam, B.C. and carries state-of-the-art sonar. Deployed from HMCS Kingston far north of where the Franklin wreck was discovered, and closer to the last reported position of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, the Arctic Explorer scans the seabed for hours at a time and returns on its own to the mother ship. Bringing the different devices together in extreme Arctic conditions, and proving they can pay off against long odds, is one of the spinoff benefits of finding the 19th century shipwreck. “We always say, ‘The right tool for the right job,’” said Scott Youngblut, hydrographer-in-charge at the Canadian Hydrographic Service. “We take all sorts of different technology and match it up to the particular conditions we’re in.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Stories Contributed By N. Morgan

 

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