Robert Scott’s Vessel Terra Nova Found

A team of researchers aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s flagship R/V Falkor has discovered the S.S. Terra Nova, a whaler, sealer and polar exploration ship that sunk off the southern coast of Greenland in 1943 after being damaged by ice.

The Terra Nova in December 1910 (Herbert Ponting)

Built in 1884, the S.S. Terra Nova was used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott for the British Antarctic Expedition in 1910.

In July 2012, during the R/V Falkor’s transit from Newcastle, UK to Nuuk, Greenland, the researchers performed verification of the vessel’s scientific echo sounders. The tests included a shallow water survey off the southern coast of Greenland to assess the multibeam mapping echo sounder’s performance in complex topography.

The team had selected the test survey site for several reasons: it allowed testing of ship’s mapping capabilities at seafloor depths between 10 and 1800 m, and the glacial activity in the area created distinct and prominent seafloor features.

In addition to these criteria, the region was also familiar to Leighton Rolley, a marine technician at the Schmidt Ocean Institute, who had read that the polar exploration vessel S.S. Terra Nova was reported lost off southern Greenland in 1943. With all the topographical considerations and with the secondary possibility of using a wreck as a calibration reference for the sonar equipment, the team had prioritized this location as the optimal spot for the tests.

Approximate estimated position of the wreck was used as the central point for the test survey. An area roughly five nautical miles around this position was selected for the survey to encompass various features, shallows and slopes necessary to evaluate the sonar performance.

After 12 hours of surveying, the researchers detected a feature matching the Terra Nova’s length of about 57m, and then used an underwater camera to film what they found on the seabed.

S.S. Terra Nova bridge supports visible in the underwater video filmed from R/V Falkor (Schmidt Ocean Institute)

The footage showed the remains of a wooden wreck, and also identified the funnel of the vessel, next to the wreck. The forecastle of the vessel appeared to be ‘peeled’ upwards to the port side and at an angle from the rest of the ship.

The team compared the funnel image with historical photographs of the S.S. Terra Nova. All observations jointly identified this wreck as the sunken S.S. Terra Nova.

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