British Navy Captain Franklin was one of scores of explorers who sought the as-yet unmapped Northwest Passage, a water route that would link the Atlantic to the Pacific. His two ships, the Erebus and Terror were the most well-provisioned and up-to-date of the time. But while threading a way through the maze of polar ice, the boats became trapped over several Arctic winters. Franklin died in 1847. The remaining crew, beset by scurvy, tuberculosis and lead poisoning, abandoned the doomed ships in a desperate bid to walk to safety. Death and cannibalism followed. None survived.
Global warming has thinned the ice that trapped Franklin's boats, but the ice pack is still unpredictable and subject to extreme weather. While the Northwest Passage may be more accessible to ships in the near future, animals who depend on the ice - like polar bears - are suffering from the early ice break-up that hinders the spring seal feed.