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The 2012 Franklin search team

Agencies from across the country teaming up for archeological mission

Last Updated: August 9, 2012

When Parks Canada marine archeologists search this summer for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin's 1845 mission, they'll be joined by representatives from several other federal departments and agencies. The alliance also includes public and private sector involvement and could help boost the odds of finding Erebus and

Terror in the waters off King William Island in Nunavut.

Scroll through the interactive below to read about members of the search team and some of the organizations that have joined forces to try to find the vessels.

Capt. Bill Noon - Canadian Coast Guard

When Bill Noon was growing up in West Vancouver, he worked on the docks. His big brother worked for the Canadian Coast Guard as a summer student.

So it was a "natural extension," he says now, to apply in 1981 to be a coast guard deckhand. "I signed on that summer and never looked back."

Thirty-one years later, he is a captain on the icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier as it completes its 2012 Arctic mission and offers a two-week support stint to the Parks Canada-led search for the missing ships of explorer John Franklin.

Noon says the coast guard's primary concern will be the safety of the search operation. It will also help with small boat launches and the Arctic Research Foundation vessel, the Martin Bergmann; and be on call for search-and-rescue missions.

Noon's coast guard career saw him serve as a seaman and then a lifeboat coxswain in several B.C. communities.

He also commanded two coast guard research ships, the Ricker and the John P Tully, and has been superintendent of the Canadian Coast Guard's Pacific regional operations centre.

His appointment as a master of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier came two years ago.

Noon says his experience on the John P Tully should stand him in good stead for his work on the Franklin search this summer and makes him familiar with the technology that will be used.

A fan of maritime history and wooden vessels, he has devoted hours to studying the displays in maritime museums in Britain.

"We like to think that a seaman's perspective in discussions about the actions of sailors long ago contributes to our quest to solve these mysteries," he says, referring to the fate of the Franklin vessels.

Image: Courtesy of Canadian Coast Guard

Ryan Harris – marine archeologist, Parks Canada

Ryan Harris bristles when he hears talk of fictional treasure hunters like Indiana Jones in connection with the work he and others within the agency's underwater archeology service do.

"This has a certain cache, I suppose," he acknowledges in an interview about the search for the Franklin ships.

"It's kind of an exotic location in the far North, but really, this is the kind of work we do rather routinely.

Deploying side-scan sonar, which creates an image of a seabed, and scouring the floor for shipwrecks – "it's what we do best," Harris says.

Harris, a Calgary native who has a BA in anthropology from the University of Toronto and received a master's in maritime history and nautical archeology from East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., has been an underwater archeologist with Parks Canada since 1999.

He's been involved in more than 50 underwater archeology projects, which have taken him across Canada as well as across vast periods of history -- exploring 16th-century whaling vessels in Newfoundland and Labrador and War of 1812 shipwrecks Hamilton and Scrouge in Lake Ontario.

Image: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press/CBC

Andrew Leyzack - Canadian Hydrographic Service

Andrew Leyzack had been sailing since he was young and "at that point in time I knew I wanted to make a career that involved the ocean."

After landing a job on a square-rigged sailing ship in the Caribbean, the native of Etobicoke, Ont., learned traditional seamanship and navigation under sail. But it was his fascination with the admiralty charts he saw on the ship, and a book in the vessel's library, that set his future in motion.

"There was a book in the library on board the ship on the Canadian Hydrographic Service and hydrography and the history of it and I got hooked there.

"I learned quickly that to become a sea surveyor or hydrographer, I needed to go to school for land surveying."

Leyzack graduated from Humber College's hydrographic and land survey technologist program and has been surveying for 25 years.

Among his tasks in the Arctic this summer, he'll be planning, monitoring and directing aerial surveys from a base in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.

The work by the hydrographic service, which is part of the federal government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will help chart the Arctic sea floor, looking for unforeseen hazards, along with providing data for the Franklin searchers.

And that means the hydrographic service might even get a hint of a shipwreck before others involved in quest.

Multibeam side-scan sonars, which were introduced in the Franklin search last year, "can create very high-resolution imagery of the seabed on the fly," Leyzack says. "We're creating a 3-D map of the seabed and consequently the imagery can provide us with indications of what these features are and we can see a shipwreck if it is there."

Image: Courtesy of Canadian Hydrographic Service

Alison Proctor - University of Victoria

A scuba diver, Alison Proctor revels in her time in the water.

But the University of Victoria PhD student will be doing everything she can to make sure she stays dry in the Arctic this summer as she operates one of the high-tech underwater tools searchers hope will reveal the location of the lost ships of Sir John Franklin's failed 1845 polar mission.

"In fact, we really try hard not to get in the water," she says.

Proctor will be running an autonomous underwater vehicle and this will be the first year an AUV will be part of the Franklin quest, raising hopes for success.

Proctor, who has been working with autonomous vehicles for 12 years, will be part of a two-person crew operating the AUV and tracking its progress.

"We get pictures that come back acoustically. The vehicle will take side-scan sonar imagery. Somebody will then look at all of that imagery afterwards and determine if there's anything of interest to go and look at."

Proctor, a native of B.C.'s Salt Spring Island, hesitates for a moment when asked what intrigues her so much about the water.

"The very first day that I started scuba diving, I felt at home so I knew that was kind of where I belonged."

Proctor has degrees in aerospace engineering from schools in Florida and Georgia. Seven years ago, she came back to her home province, and has been working at UVic's ocean technology laboratory, where she has been helping to create an AUV research program.

Image: Courtesy of Parks Canada

Tom Zagon - Canadian Ice Service

It would be easy enough to assume ice is ice – after all, how many different ways can water freeze?

But for Tom Zagon, ice isn't nearly that simple.

Zagon's interest in understanding just how ice works could end up providing one of the bigger clues searchers will rely on this summer in their efforts to find the lost ships of John Franklin's 1845 mission.

Zagon, who works for Environment Canada's Canadian Ice Service, has prepared an ice study describing conditions in the Arctic search area based on satellite imagery. From those images, predictions can be made on where the Erebus and Terror might have drifted after they were beset by ice in 1846.

This project is a natural evolution in the work Zagon has done over the years. He's been looking at satellite imagery daily since 1995, working with ship captains and providing ice information to vessels based on images that are very near real time.

"At the same time, I've done a lot of voyages on various icebreakers and in very heavy ice conditions," he says. "It's knowing how ships behave in ice conditions and observing how those ice conditions are visualized, are basically exhibited on an image. That's experience that I'm using."

Zagon, who has a bachelor of environmental studies from the University of Waterloo, worked first in the shipping industry, where his attention focused primarily on the use of satellite images for navigation when vessels were in icy waters.

Image courtesy of Tom Zagon

The Arctic Research Foundation and the Martin Bergmann

When the search for Franklin's lost ships resumes this summer, there will be a new partner on board, which will allow the group to expand significantly its the potential for discovering the wrecks.

The Arctic Research Foundation, a private, non-profit organization, has joined the search, offering its newly converted 64-foot research vessel, the Martin Bergmann.

An engine problem kept the Bergmann in dock in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, at the start of the search but the group is confident the ship will join the 2012 campaign at some point.

Adding the Bergmann allows the group to expand the length of the search from last year's week-long effort to as many as five to six weeks, perhaps ending in late September.

The Bergmann's transformation from an East Coast fishing trawler began after the foundation purchased the vessel in July 2011.

"We really looked all across Canada, a little bit in Europe and the United States for a vessel that would fit that bill and ended up finding one in Newfoundland," says Matt Debicki, the foundation's marine consultant.

Renamed for Martin Bergmann, a well-known and respected Arctic scientist who died in a plane crash in Nunavut last year, the ship had to be modified from a fishing vessel to a research/cargo vessel. Electrical and mechanical systems had to be updated and some areas were converted to allow space for scientists and researchers to live and do their work.

The fish hold in the belly of the vessel was converted to a workshop, extra freezer space, a bunkroom and extra fuel storage. The former shelter deck, where fishermen would have worked with some protection from the weather, was converted in part into a lab area. Winches have been added to aid with heavier and specialized scientific equipment.

The foundation would not release financial figures on the purchase and conversion of the vessel, but feels it will add considerably to the potential for scientists to do work in Arctic.

Photo: Evan Mitsui/CBC

The Canadian Space Agency

To help in the Franklin search, the Canadian Space Agency is providing satellite and optical data to help determine the coastlines and the optimal path for this summer's search party.

"What we're trying to do is essentially to determine the Arctic coastline over the area and to determine the …[underwater] topography," says Denis Auger of the space agency.

The agency will be contributing data purchased from two sources: the RADARSAT-2 satellite and DigitalGlobe, a U.S.-based commercial vendor of space imagery. It sells its images to customers like NASA and is the base for much of Google Earth.

Total value of the data is $300,000 to $400,000, but it's not a straight financial outlay for the agency: the data from RADARSAT-2 is part of a pre-purchased $450-million data agreement with the company that built the satellite: Macdonald Detweiller and Associates Ltd.

The satellite data offers a particular advantage for trying to track Arctic features.

"It allows you to take images day and night, no matter the temperature," says Auger.

"It's not affected by the sun or the light or the temperature so you can get data when you want because one of the major elements or constraints that we have up north is the fact that there's some ice."

Photo: The Canadian Space Agency

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