One Benefit of Global Warming: It's Great For Marine Archaeologists

investigator ice photo

Canada's Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice, is a history buff. He has a particular interest in HMS Investigator, which sank in 1854 after getting stuck in the ice for three years, and which was found just last week by Parks Canada archaeologists. Prentice told the Calgary Herald:

"This is one of the most important shipwrecks in Canadian history because Investigator carried Capt. Robert McClure who discovered the western entrance to the Northwest Passage. I'm elated"

The archaeologists knew roughly where to look, and found the wreck in half an hour in only 40 feet of water. So why has it taken 160 years to find it? Because until 2007 the area was covered with ice.

investigator found photo

Parks Canada

The Investigator was on the hunt for John Franklin's lost ships, the Erebus and Terror, which may be found any day now, given how the ice is receding. The Star beat me to the punch with its reading of an environmental message in all of this:

All this comes during a steamy summer when you'd suppose humankind has decided to embark on a grand global experiment: We'll ignore the clear warnings and evidence and just see what happens as we keep dumping far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the planet's oceans and other natural systems can absorb....The Investigator story is more warning than celebration. For all the feel-good elements, it's a signpost of a human experiment that makes no sense to conduct.

investigator jim prentice photo

Minister Prentice via Parks Canada

Minister Prentice previously graced the pages of TreeHugger with his comments about how safe and environmentally benign the Alberta oil sands were, particularly when compared to drilling in the gulf:

"I think it's always been clear that the oil sands provide a safe, stable, secure supply of energy and they need to be developed in an environmentally responsible way."

investigator water photo

Researchers using side-scanning sonar to find Investigator; Image: Parks Canada

The same Jim Prentice wrote a book review of Brian Payton's The Ice Passage: A True Story of Ambition, Disaster, and Endurance in the Arctic Wilderness for the Magazine Policy Options (PDF Here) He writes:

HMS Investigator became a horror for 58 British seamen after their captain cemented their ship into polar ice for not one but two consecutive winters....The Investigator and its crew survived the winters of 1850-51 and 1852-53 trapped in the ice off Banks Island. The harrowing chronicle of that second winter, based on detailed records and journals, is especially difficult to read.

He concludes:

it is a book best read if you are warm and comfortable. When you are finished, you will want nothing more than to put another log on the fire, and stay warm -- very warm.

Surely he must look out at that open water, think about those images from 160 years ago, and wonder what caused such a change.

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