A six-week search effort is currently underway in the Canadian Arctic to find the lost ships of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to chart the Northwest Passage. The lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, have been sought for more than 160 years and have yet to be discovered.
In 1845 the two ships departed from Greenhithe, England led by Sir John Franklin to sail the Canadian Arctic in search of a Northwest Passage. It is believed that during the voyage both ships became trapped in the ice and remained so for over a year. During that time, after several unsuccessful attempts to escape the Arctic, crew members of both ships perished and HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were lost to the ice.
The 2012 expedition in search of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is a continuation of Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service (UAS) surveys conducted in 2008, 2010 and 2011. On board the icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) is co-leading the search with Parks Canada, along with other government organizations and research institutes. As part of the search efforts, multibeam hydrographic surveys are being conducted using two state-of-the-art survey launches and side-scan sonars to collect high definition data for charting new Arctic navigation routes.
While the search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is the prime focus, improving navigation in the Arctic is becoming increasingly important as more commercial and tourist vessels navigate Arctic waterways. Several hydrographic surveys have been carried out in the north, but many uncharted areas remain.
To date enough data has already been gathered to create a preliminary electronic chart that expands the area for navigation in the Alexandra Strait. The updates to the chart will save vessels roughly six hours of transit time around the southwest corner of King William Island, which makes for significant fuel savings.
The search for Franklin’s lost vessel has been highly publicized through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Videos and documentation of the expedition can be found on the CBC News website, including a glimpse of the seafloor using CARIS HIPS and SIPS.