Polarsteam during a research expedition in 2015. Mario Hoppmann photo.
Sir John Franklin and a few other early Arctic explorers would have been shocked at this announcement. Scientists are organizing one of the biggest research expeditions ever planned and the challenge is somewhat unconventional. Tentatively scheduled to sail in the summer of 2019, the 120 meter research vessel Polarsteam will spend a year drifting across the North Pole locked in sea ice. During the drift the crew of researchers from 50 institutions and 14 countries will try and discover trends leading to the dramatic climate changes we have been experiencing recently.
Camps will be set up on the ice surface and measurements and analysis data from expeditions will be taken in places not previously possible.
“The decline of Arctic sea ice is much faster than the climate models can reproduce and we need better climate models to make better predictions for the future,” said MOSAiC expedition co-leader Professor Markus Rex, at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) meeting. “There is a potential that in a few decades the Arctic will be ice-free in summer. That would be a different world and we need to know about that in advance; we need to know is that going to happen or will that not happen?”
Arctic research sailing ship Fram in 1894.
There was one 19th century expedition that attempted this same lofty goal of drifting across the north Pole. In 1893, the Fram, lead by Norwegian explorer Fridtjo Nansen, attempted to “naturally” drift across the pole while locked in sea ice. Nansen armed with a generous budget raised by the Christiana Geographical Society as well as a personal contribution from King Oscar of Norway commissioned construction of a stout ship designed with a rounded hull to resist the crushing affects of the ice pack. Nansen left the ship after nearly a year and attempted to reach the North Pole on foot with another crew member. The story ends well and will,be covered in a subsequent post.
The Polarsteam will have no risk being trapped in ice as the technology of the day allows fro a sturdy hull unable to be crushed by the pressure of the Arctic ice. Polar bears will be the only danger for researchers on the ice and armed alert guards will be stationed at each camp along the journey.
The total cost of the German expedition is expected to cost $67 million to form a full view of the polar ice cap through the utilization of the most modern technology. Partner institutions from China, UK, Russia and the United States,will all take part in the endeavor.
Nunuvut’s government is staking claim to artifacts from the HMS Erebus – one of two ships from the ill – fated Sir John Franklin expedition of 1845. Nunavut is refusing to issue Parks Canada dive permits unless Parks Canada relinquishes rights to artifacts found and retrieved from the seabed at the wreck sight of the Erebus in the waters of Victoria Strait, just off the coast of King William Island where it was discovered in September 2014. The Erebus is thought to be the ship on which Franklin perished during the ill fated expedition. The other lost ship, HMS Terror has yet to be found.
Parks Canada finally relented to the Nunavut request after realizing their divers could face arrest by the RCMP. Permission from Nunavut’s director of heritage must now be consulted before retrieving any artifacts from the site.
One of the cannons from the HMS Erebu is lifted to the surface during last year’s artifact recovery mission in the Arctic. Thierry Boyer/Parks Canada photo.
In addition to Nunavut, other claimants to the Erebus’ artifacts include the Kitikmeot Inuit, who claim ownership under a land claims treaty, as well as the British, who, since the ships and expedition were of British origin, and based on an agreement drafted in 1997, possess rights to claim any artifacts of “outstanding significance” to their Royal Navy. The agreement between Canada and Britain recognize ownership of the wrecks and their contents by Britain, though it acknowledges Britain will ultimately gift ownership to Canada of everything, except gold, recovered from the wrecks.
Parks Canada diver surveys the HMS Erebus. Parks Canada photo.
“During the permit application process for the spring 2015 ice dive on HMS Erebus, the government of Nunavut included a condition that denied Parks Canada the authorization to recover artifacts from the wreck site,” says a briefing note for Leona Aglukkaq, who was then the environment minister.
The federal cabinet has subsequently declared the HMS Erebus wreck and surrounding waters a national historic site, which took precedence over Nunavut’s permit regulations. However the wreck of the Terror, Franklin’s second lost ship is presumed to be outside the historical site designation therefore creating the same issues and subject to Nunavut’s initial claim of jurisdiction for the HMS Erebus artifacts.
Diver inspects the hull of the HMS Erebus preserved by the Arctic waters. Parks Canada photo.
This summer Parks Canada will return to the Erebus wreck site to document artifacts and then continue nearby areas to the north to search for the elusive HMS Terror as well. Hopefully all the ownership and jurisdiction tug – of – wars will ease enough to allow divers to expedite the process before the artifacts are scattered.
A portion of the Erebus steering wheel found at the site. Parks Canada photo.
A crewman’s boot in good condition was found at the site of the Erebus. Parks Canada photo.
Recent photos from the HMS Erebus wreck site in the Arctic. Sir john Franklin and his crew sailed two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror into the high Arctic and lost their lives during the infamous 1845 expedition. HMS Erebus was found in September of 2014 and since then an amazing look into the past has captivated the world. The mystery of the HMS Terror continues while researchers search for that ship in the same vicinity.
Northern lights from the deck of the Park’s Canada research ship CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Park’s Canada photo.
HMS Erebus sitting in 11 Meters of water. Park’s Canada photo.
Park’s Canada researcher inspecting the hull of the HMS Erebus in 11 meters of water. Park’s Canada photo.
CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier heading to HMS Erebus site. Park’s Canada photo.
Boot of HMS Erebus crew member. Parks Canada photo.
The winter dive on the HMS Erebus, Sir john Franklin’s long lost but now found ship, went well but is only “scratching the surface” according to senior researchers on the expedition.
Divers were literally scratching the surface of the sunken ship. Removing the kelp that covered the old wooden hull was the first task to be able to get a better look at the wreck in relation to the overall site. Rather than strip it all away from the entire ship they cut it off only along the port side of the 34-meter long wooden vessel.
Although the Erebus has not disclosed much information about its fate as of yet, clearing the hull and mapping the site has provided more of a story.
Jonathan Moore drilling the ice for a dive hole at Erebus Dive Camp. Parks Canada photo.
Parcs Canada senior underwater archeologist Ryan Harris says the artifacts recovered so far “can help capture what life was like inside Erebus, as well as perhaps on the still-missing second ship of the Franklin expedition, HMS Terror.” Brass buttons, a cannon and ceramic dinner plates have all been discovered and are currently on display with a dozen other items in Gatineau, Quebec.
Brass buttons discovered can be narrowed down to only four crewmen. Parks Canada photo.
Ceramic dinner plates found at the Erebus wreck site. Parcs Canada photo.
In another mysterious and intriguing twist to the expedition, glass prisms were placed inside the upper deck which focused a very small amount light streaming through a skylight, and allowed that daylight to pass through, into the dark spaces below.
“It looks like something out of Jules Verne,” Harris says. “At this point in time, we’re absolutely just scratching the surface of what we might learn from this shipwreck,”
A cannon from the HMS Erebus is pulled to the surface through one of the dive holes cut in two-meter thick ice. Jonathan Moore/ Parcs Canada photo.
Sir John Franklin’s lost ship the Erebus was found this past year in Queen Maude Bay in the high Arctic and some of the ships artifacts have been collected and organized into an exhibit that will be on display at various venues throughout Canada over the next several months. The exhibit is currently open in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and runs through July 5th.
A sneak preview of the Erebus exhibit; Echoes in the Ice – Finding Franklin’s Ship, a display of artifacts from the recent discovery. Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC photo.
The exhibit mainly contains photos and videos of the discovery of the ship that was lost looking for the Northwest passage in 1845. In the years to come the exhibit surely will grow to contain many additional artifacts raised to the surface after they are carefully documented and mapped underwater. Speculation is abuzz that Churchill’s own “Lady Franklin” stained glass window that currently is displayed in the Anglican church in town might be included. John Franklin’s wife gave this to the 40 groups of searchers who looked for Franklin and his lost expedition over the years. The treasure was moved to Churchill from York Factory in 1967…apparently as lore has it in a barrel of molasses.
Close – up of the Lady Franklin stained glass window. Karen Walker photo.
Fascinating video of the wreck site has been collected this spring when ice still sealed the ocean surface and prevented any disruption of the silt from wave action.
The exhibit moves to Moose Jaw, and runs from July 5 to September 27. Following that time it will open in North Battleford and open in January.