Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Smoking Cliffs of Franklin Bay, just south of the Horton river mouth

In a recent post, I published an illustration of the Smoking Hills of Franklin Bay  as seen by british Captain Robert McClure in 1850, when he was exploring the coastline in search of the lost John Franklin expedition:

At the mouth of the river Horton, McClure sent a search party to investigate what appeared to be fire in what is now Franklin Bay. Thick columns of smoke were emerging from vents in the ground. The sailors returned with a sample of the smoldering rock, and when they set it down on McClure's desk it burned a hole in the wood.

Those Smoking Hills are located about 1 km south of the Beaufort Sea, a couple of miles south of where the Horton River brokes through the headland.

The odd rarity is easy to explain - deposits of lignite, carbon-rich shale, and pyrite rich in sulphur,  ignite spontaneously when the hills erode and the mineral veins are exposed to the air, producing a constant smoke.  

The Smoking Hills are very impressive. They are a long (60 km) stretch of cliffs and hills.

Franklin Bay ( 69°40′N, 125°30′ W ) is a large inlet in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

It is a southern arm of the Amundsen Gulf, on Beaufort Sea. Franklin Bay receives the Horton River, after meandering through the Smoking Hills on the east coast of Cape Bathurst. The river snakes sharply back and forth, creating a curved line parallel to the coast.


The Horton starts from a small lake, goes through a wild canyon, then passes meandering at the back of the Smoking Hills and reaches the sea on the east side of Cape Bathurst, at Franklin Bay. There the Horton's mouth forms a  wide delta.

As the river approaches its mouth, it starts meandering through the tundra flatland.

The mouth is presently a delta in the east coast, into Franklin Bay; but some years ago the river's course was different.

The mouth was then 100 kilometres  further north on the west side of Cape Bathurst, until about 1800, when a meander eroded through.

This NASA satellite image shows the deactivated meanders, now filled with sea water, as the Horton suddenly carved his new mouth to the east. It's a rare anomaly of its kind.