Ron Carlson Arctic Expeditions

Ron Carlson Arctic Expeditions
To see 2012 expedition go to:

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.


  1. Fascinating stuff. Good luck.

    Is it a streaming live shot or do you take pictures? Do you get your data then and there or do you have to go back to the lab to analyze?

  2. Hi Ted,

    Nice to hear from you. As you can read in the detail below, I can do either streaming video or snapshots on a timer with the this camera. I plan on overlapping color snapshots, best results based on my extensive testing. Also, I will conduct analysis of data daily (depending on the volume) in the field. No lab except base camp, which will be somewhat nomadic when overnight on the land, because I will be working and sleeping in the plane's cabin (on the ground hopefully, ha) when I am not in Cambridge Bay.

    I will be focusing on the coasts, but will be doing some inland scanning too. Starting on the coast lines, then see how far inland I go based on progress. I get about a 1/4 mile width with the widest angle on the overlapping pics from 3,000 to 4,000 feet up; fairly crisp images. I will do some aerial scanning initially --and from my experience in this kind of work - things are fluid, adjust as I go. In the process i hope to stumble into other things too that lead me in other directions - improvise.

    With this thermal camera, overall I will be flying anywhere from 2,000 ft agl up to 5,000 or so. The camera is very very sensitive and did do well in picking up my simulated grave here, now with gravel on it. But the flaw is that some of the surrounding grade is dirt. Up there it's mostly all rock. But on those few warm days up there, when the sun has been on the land for a couple of hours, I am fairly confident that will still show a differential against something adjacent that has ice under or within. The good news is that it is relatively flat and barren there. And if by chance Franklin did get the nice coffin like the 3 up at Beechey, I also speculate that he is not buried nearly as deep (it looked from the Owen Beattie/John Geiger pics -those men were 3 or 4 feet deep from grade line to top of coffin).

    As I said, I will be surveying at a very slow airspeed, close to 50 or 60 kts. The Beaver can do that well with proper power and flap settings. The FLIR b660 has built in GPS on the video imaging, although I have found in extensive testing that it lags quite a bit, so I have a separate GPS system being recorded too. I will use the mode of "snapshot" images every 10 seconds (settings for that) and slowing the plane down with flaps so pictures overlap one to the next, which has thus far been the most productive. I have the another separate Garmin GPS system on the laptop screen in the cockpit recording second to second positions. Then I am planning that after accumulating some targets, to land the plane nearby and investigate visually and with my portable metal detector/magnetometer system. Then make adjustments depending what I find...or I should say more probably what I "don't find".

  3. Thanks so much for the details of your expedition. Best of luck. When are you going?

    Need a second????

  4. Ron, do you expect any difficulties with Parks Canada or Nunavut in accomplishing your survey?

  5. Ugh, sorry! I made the mistake of not reviewing your previous posts on the survey, so please forgive the question above. This sounds so interesting and I am hopeful you turn up some clues or finds!

  6. Hi Ted, I will be departing this coming mid to late June. I have 2 months allowed, but not sure yet of the final time duration. A lot depends on weather and related flying conditions. When I was up there in 2003, only 1 of 3 to 4 days were flyable with the very high winds, and especially bad were the low ceilings and fog. Had an amphibian float configuration back then, which meant slower air speeds to get from point A to B, also a smaller, less robust airplane. In addition, late August/early September 2003 was a little late in the season for that latitude. I expect the weather in July and early August to be more conducive.

  7. David, No worries - the permits are all filed and the Canadians and the Inuit have been most accommodating and helpful. There is an extensive permit process, of which my applications have all been submitted. As of this writing, I have obtained 1 of the 3 main permits required for what I am doing (did have to check with other agencies also to rule out my expedition's requirement to file).

    I have received my permit exemption number to work on Inuit land (Kitikmeot Inuit Association). The other two permit applications are pending review (NIRB and NAPSR). If you are interested to see the NIRB application, it is posted for the public review (for local comment) at I will note here that there is an amendment that will be posted soon that shows my work duration as 2 months, not 10 days.