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Shipwreck from 1800s Found: Climate Change Reveal?

Jan 08, 2016 05:42 PM EST
A small anchor and other objects seen in what seems to be a 144-year-old shipwreck off Arctic Alaska
NOAA archaeologists recently found battered ship hulls and other parts of what seem to be 144-year-old wrecked whaling ships in Arctic Alaska.
(Photo : NOAA)

In the Alaskan Arctic in 1871, 33 ships were caught in pack ice near shore. They were mostly whaling ships and their captains had assumed that the wind would turn from the east, pushing the ice out to sea as had happened in the past.

After the ships were battered and destroyed over a few weeks, a monumental thing happened. About 1,200 whalers were left without transportation near the top of the globe. Eventually they were rescued by seven ships that had been waiting about 80 miles farther south, in open water near what has been called Icy Cape since Capt. James Cook named it in 1778. While all the mariners lived, the incident was called one of the top causes for commercial whaling to founder and end in the United States.

Recently, archaeologists found what they think are two hulls of the ships left marooned in the ice in 1871.
These days, as ice melts in the Arctic, more shipwreck sites are showing up for archaeologists. The two hulls were located after researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Maritime Heritage Program searched a 30-mile section of coast near Wainwright, Alaska on the Chukchi Sea, according to a release from NOAA. (Scroll down to read further...)

A map of the area that was surveyed as NOAA archaeologists looked for shipwrecks in northern Alaska.
(Photo : NOAA)
NOAA archaeologists recently found hulls of what are likely 144-year-old wrecked whaling ships.

The search team used state-of-the-art sonar and technology for sensing in order to picture the flattened hulls' outlines and other part of the wrecks' "magnetic signature." They also found fasteners, anchors, ballast and pots lined with brick that had been used to render whale blubber to oil, the release confirmed.

"Earlier research by a number of scholars suggested that some of the ships that were crushed and sunk might still be on the seabed," Brad Barr, NOAA archaeologist and co-director of the project, said in the release. "But until now, no one had found definitive proof of any of the lost fleet beneath the water. This exploration provides an opportunity to write the last chapter of this important story of American maritime heritage and also bear witness to some of the impacts of a warming climate on the region's environmental and cultural landscape, including diminishing sea ice and melting permafrost."

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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