Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ron Carlson's Franklin Search

Over the years, as readers may imagine, I've been in touch with all kinds of people who've had ideas about searching for traces of Sir John Franklin. I've heard from psychics, conspiracy theorists, supposed "direct" descendants, pathologists, poets, and glaciologists -- each with their own angle on the Franklin mystery. But until now, I've rarely known a Franklin searcher as ready, as able, and as determined as is Ron Carlson. Carlson, by his own account, first caught the Franklin bug from my late friend Chauncey Loomis's book on CF Hall, Weird and Tragic Shores. Many who have read Chauncey's book have wondered about the loose ends of the search for the elusive "Aglooka," but as the Wizard of Oz might have put it, Mr. Carlson had one thing the others hadn't got -- an airplane. With his DeHavilland Beaver, one of the legendary workhorses of the North, and his many hours of flying experience, Carlson has set out to do a fly-over of King William Island equipped with thermal sensing cameras to detect potential Franklin burial sites. He has even, in a move reminiscent of Hall's practice camp near the Cincinnati Observatory, constructed a mock-grave in his own backyard to see whether his thermal sensing equipment could detect it -- and it could.

I retain some skepticism, of course: any Franklin grave, 160+ years later, could have receded into the background radiation of thermal imagery, much as the grave of Lieutenant Irving receded back into the visual static of rocky scree and boulders. Nevertheless, given the enormous size of the area to be searched, it seems a very sensible approach to use any sort of visual or scientific telemetry to identify worthy targets in a (frozen) ocean of possibilities. Dave Woodman did much the same with his magnetometer search, and Parks Canada have tried the same approach with side-scan sonar. Even if, on examination, most of the targets proved to be natural features, we certainly need something to limit the size of the haystack in which we are to search for this needle.

Ron has an excellent blog in which he's detailed his progress so far, including landing at Arctic airstrips in adverse wind conditions, relocating an abandoned HBC post, and visiting a church in Churchill whose stained-glass windows were donated by Lady Franklin -- I urge everyone who follows my blog to follow his! There's also just been a great article on Ron's efforts in the Lakeland Times. I'm sure that the best wishes of all Franklin buffs go with him on his search this season!

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