Erebus At Risk: Researchers Running Out of Time To Investigate Franklin’s Ship

Researchers only discovered the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, the ships from John Franklin’s lost expedition, in 2014 and 2016 respectively. They’re already in a race against time to salvage what artifacts and information they can.

The Erebus is vulnerable

Climate change will reshape the Arctic and the Erebus is at risk of degrading fast. While the Terror is 24m under the surface, the Erebus lies in shallower water, just 11m down in the Queen Maud Gulf. This shallow depth leaves the Erebus vulnerable in warmer water that is exposed to increasingly fierce storms.

“Parts of the ship’s upper deck collapsed recently and other parts are sloping over dangerously,” Jonathan Moore, manager of the Parks Canada underwater team, told The Guardian.

Ironically, researchers initially believed climate change might make investigating the wrecks easier. Warmer conditions meant less sea ice and more time each year to dive at both sites. Yet even when diving was possible, the water was often close to freezing, making for demanding, unpleasant working conditions.

A researcher monitoring divers investigating Erebus.

A researcher monitoring divers investigating Erebus. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


But new technology has improved things, in particular the introduction of heated diving suits. Back in September, a team made 68 Erebus dives in just 12 days.

And these dives are producing plenty of interest. The latest finds “include an intact thermometer from an officer’s cabin, a leather shoe, and a collection of fossils, all traceable to particular crew members,” Euro News reports.

It’s not only archeologists who are interested in Franklin’s ships. The two wrecks form unique artificial reefs. “Analysing the ecology of these artificial ecosystems will provide important information about what influences Arctic marine life, and how marine organisms have influenced the wrecks,” Parks Canada writes.

To ensure that research into Erebus can continue as long as possible, the agency is roping in outside help to model how changing wind and wave patterns will affect the wrecks.

In the meantime, research will continue. “[The Erebus] is our prime concern…we are going to concentrate on it and peel back its story, layer by layer,” Moore told The Guardian.

Franklin’s lost expedition

John Franklin’s expedition left England in 1845 for the Arctic, intending to open a new trade route through the fabled Northwest Passage.

When two years passed with no word from Franklin, the searches began. Finding Franklin was one of the great mysteries of the age. As time went on, it became clear that Franklin and all 129 men had perished. Searchers turned up many tantalizing clues, but Franklin’s fate has never been satisfactorily resolved.

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

Martin spent most of the last 15 years backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. Whether it was hitchhiking through Syria, getting strangled in Kyrgyzstan, touring Cambodia’s medical facilities with an exceedingly painful giant venomous centipede bite, chewing khat in Ethiopia, or narrowly avoiding various toilet-related accidents in rural China, so far, Martin has just about survived his decision making.

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam, Martin can be found out in the jungle trying to avoid leeches while chasing monkeys.