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'Extremely complex': How the hunt for clues in the Franklin shipwreck mystery is changing gears

'Extremely complex': How the hunt for clues in the Franklin shipwreck mystery is changing gears
From CBC - August 12, 2017

The hunt for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was tough enough.

Now Parks Canada underwater archeologists are sorting out just how they will try to unlock the clues to the Franklin Expedition mystery that may be hidden in the wrecks of the reinforced British warships that lie in the icy waters of Nunavut.

"We are ready to get into what we consider is going to be one of the most complex and challenging underwater archeological excavations in Canada," Marc-Andr Bernier, manager of underwater archeology for Parks Canada, said of what comes next for exploring the Erebus site in Wilmot and Crampton Bay.

For one week at the end of August, a six-person team of underwater archeologists is planningto be at the site, diving from inflatable boats and working from a base camp on a nearby island.

Parks Canada said Friday the work will include preparations for the next phase of exploration of the Erebus, which is expected to continue for several years.

But with Erebus and Terror, it seems, little comes simply. There are ongoing questions over future ownership and security of the site.

And even this year's exploration has had its hiccups. The planned program is not what Parks Canada initially had in mind, when it first proposed an archeological investigation of up to four weeks, with 14 people on site.

Things changed when the agency realized its hopes to have a newly refitted research vessel on base this summer were not going to work out.

The RV David Thompson, a 228-tonne former coast guard vessel transferred to the agency, is still in a shipyard in Nanaimo, B.C.

'Preparation is key'

Bernier said there were a number of factors at play, including unforeseen work required on a vessel at midlife, and more stringent requirements than were anticipated for its recommissioning.

"Preparation is key for this vessel so we want to make sure that before we bring it up to the Arctic, everything is in top condition."

A barge that is intended to play a major support role for work exploring the wreck sites also wo not be in place in time for this year's season, butBernieranticipates it will be for next summer.

"We are not going to start until we have all the right pieces together and [the RV David Thompson]unfortunately was delayed but we still have a lot of work to do," said Bernier.

"It has changed our plans but basicallywe are starting the next phase. It's going to be extremely complex."

While Parks Canada archeologists are at the Erebus site later this month, they hope to "try to get deeper into the wreck" with a remotely operated vehicle,Bernier said, and boost their knowledge of just what lies inside the timbers of the ship that was one-half of the mid-19th-century expedition led by John Franklin to find the elusive Northwest Passage.

The ROV will have video cameras, and archeologists hope to gain access to the engine room, along with getting a look inside the coal bunkers with point-of-view cameras.

They will also be laying the groundwork for the underwater excavation they hope to doand which many hope will reveal key clues to understanding how the expedition came to its sad demise, with its loss of Franklin and 128 crew.

"We are going to change gears," Bernier said. "This involves quite a lot more of logistical support, equipment."

Where should the barge go?

That means figuring outamong other thingshow and where to position the barge so it can support equipment to remove sediment, provide a place from which the divers can dress and have a hyperbaric chamber on site in case of any diving accident.

Work will also be done for the "Guardian" program that will see Inuit heavily involved in efforts to protect and monitor the sites.

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