"Meet the experts" Q&A
Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site
Do you want to want to know about some of the interesting careers available in the Government of Canada and in the Canadian Arctic?
In November 2016, we invited Parks Canada Campus Club Network to a Facebook live event. We gave young adults an opportunity to ask questions to the experts involved in Mission Erebus andTerror in the Arctic.
Check out the event on Facebook or take a look at the Q & A from the event below.
During this unique event, we gave young people a taste of some of the fascinating jobs available in the Government of Canada and in the Canadian North, and invited them to ask questions to the guest experts.
Visit the Facebook page for the online Franklin event, Discussion tab, to view the complete video from the event and read all of the participants’ comments.
Questions were answered by the experts live during the event as well as in writing after the event. Select the expert's name to read their questions and answers.
- Thomas Zagon, Physical Scientist, Research, Canadian Ice Service
- Marc-André Bernier, Manager and Underwater Archaeologist, Parks Canada
- Leslie Qammaniq, Cultural Interpreter, Nunavut
- Brandy Lockhart, Underwater Archaeologist, Parks Canada
- Alexandre Poudret-Barré, Underwater Archaeologist, Parks Canada
- Hans Biberhofer, Sediment Scientist, Environment Canada and Climate Change
Live - "The question is regarding movement in ice and how do we – I’m not sure if we know from where the ship sank how far did it move – did the ice move them? And when considering they’re in the water and the ice is above presumably, how does that work?"
Live - "So just to review the question. How far does the ice travel and how was it possible for the ships to move with the ice and does the ice affect, I guess, the ships during the winter? Okay. So we’re looking at ice motion – ice motion is predictable just because of currents and certain weather patterns. So we’re able to look at over the years at many different images showing that there’s a strong current, which has now been confirmed, moving from where the ships were abandoned through Alexander Strait down to where the Erebus was found. And you do this by tracking multi-year ice flows from an image. They move slowly, like less than a fraction of knot, half a knot. But over weeks and months, they can travel hundreds of miles, and that’s what happened in this case. So that ice gravitates towards where the Erebus was found."
And now the depth of that, there is about 10 metres, so the ice is about – you know, ice thickness goes to two metres, so there’s only about three metres between the bottom of the ice and the deck of the Erebus. So I know there’s some motion from waves, but the ice doesn’t really impact it. And with the Terror, it’s different in that there is no evidence of ice moving to where the Terror was found, which obviously opens up the questions even more, and that’s open to debate. But what’s interesting there is that it’s a very, very sheltered area. It’s sheltered from the winds and it’s sheltered from the ice because we don’t see multi-year ice moving into Terror Bay. And last of all, it’s deeper, so it’s protected from the weather and from any potential ice incursions."
What inspired you to be involved with the finding of the two ships?
In 1993 during my first trip to the Arctic, I was reading Pierre Berton’s well-known book The Arctic Grail which contains details of various Arctic expeditions. I was there in May near Resolute Bay as part of a group building a scientific ice camp in an area where Franklin’s ships were known to have sailed. I remember vividly standing on the ice in Barrow Strait, looking south and thinking to myself: "They went that way; I wonder what happened to them?" So what started out initially as an innocent question eventually turned into passion that has lasted for over two decades.
Live - "How long did it take them to find the two ships?"
Live - "A hundred and seventy years. More or less. Yes. The ships have been looked by many groups, many people, immediately three years after Franklin left the Arctic, but we kind of separate it in the contemporary search for the ships and also the modern searches. So the modern searches, it’s really since 1960, I think, some of the first expeditions.
Ourselves, Parks Canada, we were involved in two or three other occasions before 2008, but in 2008 we really put together a program to give a push to find the Franklin wrecks, at the same time working with partners like the Canadian Hydrographic Service, Canadian Ice Service to chart the Arctic missing portions of the Northwest Passage – and there’s a lot of portions that have not been chartered.
Another way to look at it is, when we scan, we actually are in a boat and it’s like mowing the lawn. So before we hit Erebus, it would have been like leaving Vancouver, sailing straight to St. John’s, Newfoundland, turning around and coming back and when you hit Calgary this is when we hit the Erebus. So that’s how long it took. And each year we went since 2008 - we didn’t go in 2009 and found Erebus in 2014; it was about for a week-long project. The longest was for six weeks. So that’s how long it took us, six years, but it’s not six years. It’s six seasons, right?!"
Live - "Terror Terror was found in Terror Bay. Why didn’t you look at Terror Bay?"
Live - "Erebus Bay and Terror Bay, because there is also an Erebus Bay – were not named after the loss of Erebus and Terror. And at the time they were named, they did not know where they were. They were just giving names to places and they named Erebus and Terror Bay. Erebus is not in Erebus Bay, and quite far from it. We used a lot of the Inuit knowledge, historical knowledge or traditional knowledge, and Terror Bay is a bit of a surprise in a sense because indications of how we interpreted the Inuit knowledge from the 19th century did not guide us to Terror Bay, but it was current knowledge from somebody, an Inuk, from Gjoa Haven, and we had heard that story before as well, that there was something in Terror Bay."
Live - "What’s the timeline for the search? Once you started narrowing down patches where the Franklin ships might have been… At what points did people join the team?"
Live - "It’s multi-disciplinary. So where do you start? Well, first, you have to know the history, so you have to go through all the history, everything that was done beforehand because people have been searching before, so you want to know where they’ve been, how they’ve searched, what they found, all clues on land. One of the things we did was working with the Government of Nunavut and a terrestrial archaeologist Doug Stenton who was looking onshore at the same time as we were looking. So we were trying to find clues. And actually, the first wreck, his team found something onshore that led us to an area where the wreck was.
It all happened at the same time. We already had been searching, narrowing down, and using Inuit oral and written accounts from the 19th century guiding us to areas to try to understand the topography. And that’s where the ice study came in because we had stories by the Inuit that one of the wrecks was way further south than where it was abandoned. And the ice study kind of confirmed that it was possible that the ice took it there.
So after that, it’s just having a strategy and finding the right equipment for the right area because some of the equipment we have, it’s better when it’s shallow. Others, it’s better when it’s deep. So you have to try to adapt everything to where you are.
Obviously, sometimes it’s difficult because there’s no charts, so you don’t know how deep it is, right. So that’s when you just play by feel, and then go and as you go, you develop your strategy. So it’s actually coming from all the different angles, and it comes from traditional to high tech and try to measure everything together and using the skills of everybody."
Live - "How do you think people, both young and old, Canadian and international, can experience the Arctic and Canadian North in a sustainable and respectful way? What are your tips?"
Live - "That’s a really good one because the cruise ships that I have gone on go to the communities and always try to leave them as they are. So that’s a lot of awareness that does happen, and that’s something that the cruise ships that I’ve been on, I usually talk to the community, say to people on the ship whatever you take you leave. So that’s a way that we try to incorporate that because when you think about it, that’s a lot of history that people can take, so we always try to bring awareness and let people know that who knows how long ago it was there, so we try and leave it the same. And it’s about when we visit places, we do the same. So that’s another way that we try and bring awareness and educating people."
Live - "What role do you play in this expedition and what role did Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge) play in finding these ships?"
Live - "Last summer, I was on the One Ocean expedition. I wasn’t part of the discovery of Erebus. So last year, there was a Parks Canada partnership with One Ocean and they had a call out for all across Nunavut to bring in more Inuit on staff, so that’s how I was involved. I’m not involved in any of this per se, but it really opened up my opportunities on other cruise ships. Like this summer, I got the chance to go on Crystal Serenity, so it definitely opened up opportunities and a chance for people to get on through this. So I think it’s a great way to start from the community level and grow in a way that it’s really helped me see the overall bigger picture of the world as well as bringing awareness for people. So eventually I’d like possibly to get involved later on, but for now it was my capacity, through the cruise ship tours."
What are some good ways for university students to be more connected with the Arctic?
I think that university students can certainly be more connected through the Department of Education in Nunavut and to be able to work with the high schools across the territory. In the past we have had university students come to our communities and stay and work in the schools. One year we had youth doing sexual health education as well as other aspects of health. There are many ways to be involved through programming. Through education is certainly a way we can help empower and engage universities across Canada and schools across the territory. I am not at all involved in schools so that is my guess as to how they can be involved.
Do you think Inuit traditional knowledge has been adequately incorporated into discussions about the Franklin expedition? What else can we do to ensure Inuit perspectives are included?
I really cannot answer if the Inuit traditional knowledge has been adequately involved as I did not have any direct experience or any work with them. I have heard of the Inuit that talked about the ship. I was living in Scotland at the time of the finding, so I was far away when it was discovered.
What are some of the key messages people from the south need to know about the Arctic?
As for the general comment of some key message people from the south need to know about the Arctic, is this in relations to the finding or way of life in Nunavut? I can go on and on about people need to know about the cost of living and the social conditions that Inuit have to live in the conditions or in general. It is hard to fully answer that. The more we are open to other cultures and our own personal interests that leads us to study and learn more about other connections is what I think is best.
Live - "What challenges are associated with underwater archaeology compared to above ground archaeology?"
Live - "The main one is the environment. It’s underwater, so although you use the same survey techniques generally and some of the same equipment even, you have to adapt it for the underwater environment. So one of the biggest challenges is timing. You don’t have all day to measure and draw things. You have an hour, two hours, depending on how much air you have and how cold it is. So you have to be able to collect information in chunks.
Some of the other things that you have to consider in that environment is something as simple as note-taking or drawing underwater. I’m not the neatest writer on land, so we put a great big glove on my hand and a pencil, and I’m trying to hold a board underwater, it kind of looks like a kid with a crayon, and I have to draw nice detailed sketches. So things like that tend to be one of the hardest challenges.
Basically just the environment, modifying your techniques and also ensuring that your environment is safe. You’re scuba diving, so you have to be thinking not just about what you’re doing under the water and the information you’re collecting, but also that if you have enough air, that you’re not too deep, that your buddy’s still visible, things like that."
How do you find underwater artifacts if they are very deep and there are high water pressures?
If we are working on a site that is deeper than limits of diving we can use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to access and assess the site. ROVs can be equipped with many tools including video cameras, still cameras, sonar, manipulator arms or other lifting tools. If it is determined that an artifact is stable enough and accessible to an ROV it is possible to raise it using various lifting attachments and appropriate planning.
Live - "What impressed you the most during the last mission?"
Live - "It’s a bit like what Hans already said. Going above the 60th parallel, seeing the landscapes and connecting with a part of Canada that is so far away from us in the south is something fairly unimaginable for most of us. The mission is certainly interesting from an archaeological standpoint, but from a human standpoint, it’s the aspect of going up into the Arctic and seeing the people. We had an opportunity to go on the land, to a school in Taloyoak, to talk about the Franklin project and as a result, we had an opportunity to meet young people and see communities where there is a relationship between Franklin and Inuit that resonates far more strongly in a certain way than with people in the rest of the country.
So to experience that and to finally realize that in the course of our missions, we travel across the country and come in contact with so many people—this reconnects us with what we are doing, now that we are back in the office. This is my first year in this position so it is a bit difficult to put things in perspective, but I can say it deepens our attachment to what we do from day to day."
Did any animals make their home around the ship?
In 2015 one leg of the mission on the wreck of HMS Erebus was devoted to a marine biology pilot project. All told, 20 algae species and 71 invertebrate species were identified, bearing in mind that a study of the interior-dwelling species has not yet been completed. As well, Parks Canada underwater archaeologists observed several as yet formally unidentified fish species on the site, including small cod. Individual bearded seals regularly visited the site. At this time work continues on the study of the marine biology of the HMS Erebus site.
As for HMS Terror we have not started to study the marine biology of the wreck site.
How deep in the water were the two ships found?
HMS Erebus is at a depth of 11 meters. We do not disclose the depth of the HMS Terror until the legal protection is put in place.
What is the most interesting artifact you have uncovered from the shipwrecks?
There are many interesting artefacts in the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror that have been and have yet to be discovered. Of course the bell of HMS Erebus is one of the important artifacts that have been raised. The bell was sounded in order to mark time aboard the ship, making its sound heard and known by all of the crew. It was part of their everyday "soundscape".
Saying that, one of the artifacts that intrigues me the most is a seamen's chest, mainly because it might reveal personal objects that two of the seamen of HMS Erebus would have brought with them for this long Arctic journey. Perhaps it contains personal possessions which would be very interesting!
Live - "What did you study in university?"
Live - "In university, I studied fisheries biology, looking at a number of disciplines with regard to fishery ecology, fish species habitat requirements and that sort of things, but that was just the beginning. The aquatic environment is so much more diverse than just looking at a particular aspect or fisheries aspects of it. I did some work in fisheries once I graduated and then got involved with chemistry and in national labs.
And so from that, chemistry took me to contaminant research, from contaminant research still aquatic, looking at how that impacts the environment and then from my current research analysis of those contaminants what’s the big transport of them? And then that in turn realized well, what’s the impact on the fisheries.
So everything’s connected to everything. Started with fisheries, I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege to work with a number of different scientific disciplines, all of which are exciting in their own right and then being able to – something I never thought I would do is archaeology as well, just if you want to see passionate scientists, sit down in a room with some archaeologists and they start talking about which way the Terror went, and you’ll see some passion. And it’s just a privilege just to take it all in. So I started with fisheries, but there’s been a lot more throughout my career."
Live - "Do you think your university studies prepared you well for your current position?"
Live - "Well, absolutely. I graduated within a very exciting course, fisheries biology.
And I think any study that you take that’s investigative, that requires you to think outside, look at, use imagination, be creative, is going to contribute both in your career and in your life. But for me, the fisheries aspect, I’ve always – being aquatic, I had the opportunity to stay within that field, looked for linkages throughout my career, contributed with those linkages, and I think it’s been valuable for myself as for the programs that I’ve contributed to."
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