During routine functional performance testing of the mutibeam mapping echo sounders on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s flagship R/V Falkor in July 2012, the team aboard — including researchers from the University of New Hampshire, Ifremer, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — discovered the S.S. Terra Nova, a whaler, sealer and polar exploration ship that sunk offshore Greenland in September 1943 after being damaged by ice.
The performance verification of R/V Falkor’s scientific echo sounders precedes oceanographic research cruises set to begin in 2013. The tests included a shallow-water survey off the southern coast of Greenland to assess the Kongsberg EM710 multibeam mapping echo sounder’s performance in complex topography. The testing took place on July 11, 2012, as part of the planned R/V Falkor field trials during the transit of the vessel from Newcastle, UK to Nuuk, Greenland.
Researchers selected the test survey site for several reasons: It allowed testing of ship’s mapping capabilities at seafloor depths between 10 and 1,800 metres and the glacial activity in the area created distinct and prominent seafloor features. Because of the glaciers, the Schmidt Ocean Institute survey team expected to see mixtures of deposits from soft sediment to gravel and boulders deposited by icebergs and glaciers. Different seabed compositions enable testing of the reception quality of the high/low back scatter signals by the multibeam system. Icebergs common to the area leave significant gouging marks on the seabed, which would effectively test bathymetric mapping data.
In addition to meeting all of these criteria for the test site, the region was also familiar to Schmidt Ocean Institute Marine Technician Leighton Rolley, 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 Schmidt Ocean Institute had prioritised this location as the optimal spot for this round of tests.