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New Method for Exploring for Wrecks of the 1871 Western Arctic Whaling Ship Disaster

This Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) is to support preliminary research using novel techniques for finding underwater wrecks in the Arctic. In August of 1871, 31 Yankee whaling ships were crushed by the ice and sunk, or burned near Point Belcher, Alaska. This event had enormous impact on the Native population and on the whaling community. Little is actually known about the location and condition of these significant wrecks. An attempt to locate wrecks in the 1990s had technical difficulties, but during testing of an underwater camera, a single wreck was located, demonstrating that some wrecks do remain on the ocean bottom. The customary approach to Arctic underwater exploration relies on a large and expensive support vessel, but the Point Belcher location is a good candidate for exploring with different, less costly methods. Due to the wrecks' expected close proximity to shore it is reasonable to expect that an accurate site survey can be accomplished with a small, land-based team using an inflatable vessel. The investigators have developed and successfully used these techniques for many years on Lake Superior and it is now reasonable to attempt to demonstrate their value on this type of arctic project.<br/><br/>This project will be a research contribution by locating and documenting shipwrecks from the 1871 Yankee whaling ship disaster, while supplying a proof of concept for shore-based underwater exploration techniques in the Arctic. Results will allow for future access to important data sources (the wrecks) by investigators who are researching cultural history, materials longevity in Arctic waters, and marine colonization of artificial reefs. At no time during the project will any site disturbance or artifact retrieval take place. The project will have broader societal impacts through its direct collaborations with Native institutions (UIC Science Center and Inupiat Heritage Center), and with community organizations (North Slope Borough School District, Barrow Arctic Science Consortium), and through community presentations for the general public. The team will preliminarily assess the conditions of the wrecks and determine if further evaluation and documentation is warranted.

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