Ron Carlson Arctic Expeditions

Ron Carlson Arctic Expeditions
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gjoa Haven - Closest Civilization to Search Area

Roald Amudnsen
Gjoa Haven is in present day a hamlet of a little over 1,000 people.  Inhabited almost entirely by Inuit, it is located about 100 miles to the southeast from where the Franklin men began their death march in the late 1840's.  It was established in formality after the acclaimed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen passed through sometime between 1903 and 1906.  After staying there for 2 years, Amundsen famously then went on, in his ship the Gjøa, to become the first to sail through the fabled Northwest Passage.  Amundsen learned from the local Netsilik people about arctic survival skills like how to use sled dogs and to wear animal skins in lieu of heavy, woolen clothing, like Franklin and his men wore.

Some of today's direct descendants of the people of Gjoa Haven are the ones who bore witness to the slow death of the men of the Franklin Expedition.  Although at times they did  try to help them, there was fear and caution.  In addition, the crew had a substantial lack of knowledge of the best ways to hunt and survive in these harsh arctic climates, combined with their practice of the traditional Victorian ways of challenging winter.

Here are some of my images from Gjoa Haven on the 2003 trip.  It was early September and the wind never seemed to be less than 30 knots, and many times much more.  One landing in particular had the wind 80 degrees perpendicular to the runway from the left at 55 knots and gusting.  I landed  on the far left runway side, with no flaps, on the left wheel - and danced down the runway in a slip that had the left wingtip almost on the ground to prevent from being blown off the prescribed path.  Having a gravel runway helped as the plane skidded the last 50 feet sideways to a stop.

Typical high arctic late summer day
Most days also had low ceilings, low visibilities and fog, not to mention the gales.  One must always have at least one out, in this region maybe two.

Gjoa Haven beach area 2003
"Clear day" at Gjoa Haven Airport 2003
Drilling into the permafrost for tie downs

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Over Ocean Flying - Dangers

Many of you have asked about how one would deal with an engine problem with the plane over the extended ocean flying that I will have to do, or worse, in the event that I would end up having to ditch the aircraft.  The answer is simple - a very unpleasant and cold (literally very cold) "get wet".  Although the DeHavilland Beaver's Pratt & Whitney 985 radial engine is almost bullet proof (even when more than one cylinder blows, which in itself is a rarity, this engine keeps running with surprising power).  But one never knows 100%.  There for, as I am one who tries to think of all the what if's - of the "what if's" - I will have a 2 hour immersion suit on with a specially geared ELT hooked to  the suit ("Emergency Locator Beacon" with plane and description registered to NOAA), and within arms reach, a 5 man CO2 charged inflatable life raft with shelter/beacons and a survival gear pack (with Satphone in HD Ziplock inside).  If I were to be descending and preparing to ditch, I would pull the compact raft to my lap protecting my chest from impact and hopefully be able to grab the survival gear too on the way out.  The key though is to get the raft out and deployed as I would probably have only a matter of minutes before the plane would disappear.  Pictures of my actual equipment.  The suit is custom fitted.

Forensic Findings Just Out

A new report from the Journal of Archeological Science has just come out shedding more light on the personal identification of a skeleton of a member of Sir John Franklin's doomed 1845 expedition to the Arctic.

Facial reconstruction from the skull

Some of the Franklin crew (Click to Enlarge)

These skeletal remains were sent back to England back in 1869 and interred beneath the Franklin Memorial in Greenwich. They were originally found and recovered by Charles Francis Hall when he was searching in vain for Franklin survivors.  It had since been widely accepted that the remains were that of Lieutenant Henry Le Vesconte.  But that is changing now.  In the process of  undertaking renovations to the monument in 2009, it had allowed for the opportunity to reexamine these artifacts with new and state of the art technologies and techniques.  And now that this new initial research is finished, which includes a facial reconstruction from the skull, it seems that it is doubtful that the bones are that of Vesconte after all.

One thing of particular interest is that one of the molars has a gold filing.  This drove conclusions that it had to be an officer, thus narrowing the field of prospects for identity.  But now, part of the new research includes isotope integrity testing of tooth enamel and those tests conclude that the type of drinking water this person had access to while growing up didn't match up with the area  that Le Vesconte had grown up, but rather Henry Goodsir.  Along with the facial reconstruction, this so far says that Assistant Surgeon of the Erebus - Henry Goodsir, leads the pack as being the identity owner of this skeleton.

Unfortunately, there are no surviving photographic artifacts of most of the officers and  none of the rest of the crew, so there can be no solid conclusions drawn from this work.  Only DNA testing from the descendants can help here.  And that work seems to be commencing.  We will stay tuned.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Graves Observed from my 2003 Expedition

Grave near southern shores of  KWI  (Click to Enlarge)
These two grave locations were observed and photographed near the southern shores of King William Island from the 2003 trip.  Not the first one to find these locations, but very interesting non the less.  Buried on the land and covered with rocks and wood.    Many bone fragments and a few tent rings scattered all around within 50 yards.  Arctic foxes have long ago had their way.  Guessing these two unfortunates were hunters, traders or explorers from the mid or late part of the last century.  

(Click to Enlarge)  Bullet hole to the back of the skull?

Part of the top and the end of the enclosure of one of the graves was totally exposed, with part of the skeleton still laid out and intact, probably as it was soon after death.  Note what appears to be a bullet hole in the back of the skull on one (picture on the right).  Only had an hour as the weather closed in rapidly from the west that day.  Low ceilings, rain and fog.  Had to depart quickly.  This turned into an instrument flight 350 miles south to Baker Lake, requiring a full instrument approach at minimums.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Less Ice in the North These Days

Melt Off --- There has definitely been a bigger  snow and ice melt off in recent summers in the far northern regions.  On the left is an Envisat ASAR mosaic of the Arctic Ocean at summer's end of 2007; early September (an unprecedented thaw).  This satellite image clearly showing the most direct route of the North-West Passage open (orange line) and the North-East passage only partially blocked (blue line). The dark gray color represents the ice-free areas, while green represents areas with sea ice. (Image courtesy of European Space Agency). 

If only the Franklin men could have been so lucky to have these summer days.

Fly the Planned 2011 Route to King William Island via Google Earth

  Flight Plan:

  Chicago's Grayslake to Woodruff, Wisconsin -     262 miles
  Woodruff to Fort Frances, Ontario -                     256 miles
  Fort Frances to Pickle Lake, Ontario -                 240 miles
  Pickle Lake to Gillam, Manitoba -                       385 miles
  Gillam to Churchill, Manitoba -                           166 miles
  Churchill to Baker Lake, Manitoba -                    390 miles
  Baker Lake to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut -            414 miles
  Cambridge Bay to KWI (Victory Point) -              175 miles
  Total One Way Trip -                                       2,288 miles

Click here to Fly to King William Island

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Officers

Here are some ACTUAL images of some of the key members of the Franklin Expedition.  

These  images were taken with cameras that represented one of the earliest forms of photography, called "Daguerreotype".  Mercury vapor from a pool of heated mercury would be used to develop the plate which consists of a copper plate with a thin coating of silver rolled in contact, which has previously been sensitized to light with iodine vapor.  This is to form silver iodide crystals on the silver surface of the plate.
1850 Daguerreotype Camera

The image is formed on the surface of a silver plate that looks like a mirror. It could easily be rubbed off with the fingers and would oxidize in the air, so from the outset daguerreotypes were mounted in sealed cases or frames with a glass cover.

Interesting note - Look closely at the images below, at the  shiny hat bills.  One can actually see the reflection of the masted ships in the background which means that they were posing at the ship dock. Perhaps a refection of the Terror or even the Erebus itself? James Fitzjames had 2 images taken (one is below).  As he shifted slightly for the two portraits, experts have determined when superimposing the pics, that not only is there the image of the ship reflecting, but also an image of Sir John Franklin himself standing there watching!  This enlightenment is thanks to  Russell Potter's blog (highly recommended viewing) "Visions of the North" and author William Battersby, from his book - "James Fitzjames, the Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition"
(Per William, apparently Daguerreotypes do not have a grain like photographs do – the layer of metal that is developed is at the atomic level.  Therefore with some of them it is possible to blow up the eye so large that you can see the reflection on the retina – i.e., the full picture of what the person was looking at.  Let's hope someone might try that soon with these images.)

Sir John Franklin, (59) Captain - Erebus
James Fitzjames (33) Commander - Erebus
Graham Gore, Commander - Erebus
Francis Crozier (age 49) Captain - Terror

Lieutenant James Fairholme, Erebus
Edward Couch, Mate, Erebus
Lieutenant H.T.D. Les Vesconte, Erebus
Dr. Harry Goodsir, Assistant Surgeon, Erebus
James Reid, Ice Master, Erebus
Dr. Stephan Stanley, Surgeon, Erebus

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Aerial Thermal Imaging

Thermal camera
The goal of this undertaking is to find artifacts that tie to the Franklin Expedition of 1845.  The main artifacts sought after for this mission relates to finding a container that holds the written records made by those doomed men, or the buried coffin location of Sir John Franklin himself.  No one knows if either of these entities exist.  The existence of Sir John's tomb is not as probable as one might hope because anything that might stand out from a standing visual sight line on the ground would have seemingly already been found by any one of the previous searches that have already been conducted there by others.  But that would assume one is looking in the usual places.  Will NOT only be looking there.  And should something exist and is buried in colder dirt, sand and rock, “on the land”, it is not only possible, but probable, that it would show up on the thermal camera from the air.

John Hartnell (previously discovered by others)

Planning includes flying over areas of King William Island to thermally and visually examine the topography for potential signs of a tomb, earth cavity of ice or hollow, or any anomaly that may be still frozen underground - where surrounding grade tundra or rock may be ice free and slightly warmer during a warm summer arctic day.   On the left is a photo of John Hartnell, one of the first 3 to die on the Franklin Expedition.  He died on January 4, 1846 and is here almost as he appeared then - frozen in time.

The key to the theory on how to find it - The ground surrounding a target will thermally image slightly WARMER (red/yellow) on the sensing spectrum than the section of terrain that is partially frozen or the sub terrain ice that it might be encapsulated in, which would image slightly COLDER (blue).

Image on left - Taken at 3,000 feet AGL from Beaver with thermal camera, inset pic 6x zoom of cold spots on ground

The thermal camera has a very sensitive imager which detects a 1 degree heat differential from as far as 10,000 feet away.  The camera will be custom mounted in the belly of DeHavilland Beaver airplane and exposed to the elements through a custom built cone integrated in the cargo drop hatch door.  Potential targets will be recorded by GPS coupled to the camera imaging system to facilitate ground searches with metal detection devices (including magnetometer) which include coil and blanket antennae configurations.