Expedition Will Search for the Wreck of Shackleton's Ship

The Endurance sinking beneath the ice, November 1915 (Royal Geographic Society)

By The Maritime Executive 04-10-2018 07:19:00

Next year, a team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute will launch a search for the wreck of the sailing vessel Endurance, which was crushed and sunk by pack ice during Ernest Shackleton's famed Antarctic expedition.

The wooden-hulled Endurance was a famously sturdy ship, with framing and sheathing so heavy that she could break ice. However, she was beset and trapped as Shackleton and his crew transited the Weddell Sea in January 1915. She drifted with the ice for months, but the extreme pressures eventually broke open her hull, and she began to flood in late October. On November 21, Shackleton ordered his crew to abandon ship, setting their legendary journey to salvation in motion. The wreck of the Endurance has never been found, despite multiple attempts.

Next January, researchers from South Africa, New Zealand, the U.S. and the UK will board the supply/research icebreaker Agulhas II for a 45-day voyage to the Weddell Sea. They intend to examine Iceberg A-68, the gigantic 2,200 square mile sheet that calved off of the Larsen C ice shelf last July. As A-68 is close to the last recorded location of the Endurance, the team plans to add on a search for the wreck, which lies about two miles below the surface. The Agulhas II is equipped with multibeam sonar for a bottom search, and if the wreck location is covered by ice, the team can deploy free-swimming autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to search the inaccessible area.  

“If the expedition finds the wreck we will survey, photograph, and film it and document its condition,” said expedition leader Julian Dowdeswell, speaking to The Telegraph. “If there are deep-water marine species colonizing the wreck, the marine biologists may try to obtain scientific samples [using an ROV]."