A century after Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance sank in Antarctic waters, leading to one of the greatest survival stories in the history of exploration, a team of explorers, technicians and scientists Modern scholars are sailing to find wrecks.
With a 46-man crew and 64-member expedition aboard, a South African icebreaker will leave Cape Town on Saturday for the Weddell Sea. Once there, the team hopes to find the wreck and explore it using two underwater drones.
Getting there won’t be easy. Crushed by rocks in 1915, the 144-foot-long Endurance lay in 10,000-foot waters. And this isn’t just water: In Weddell, an eddy sustains a thick and nasty sea ice that can rival even modern icebreakers.
Shackleton himself, whose plans to be the first person to cross the South Pole had derailed due to the loss of his train, described the site of the sinking as “the worst part of the worst sea in the world. ”
“It’s the most inaccessible wreck ever,” said Mensun Bound, a marine archaeologist and the expedition’s director of discovery. Endurance22. “This makes this the biggest wreck hunt of all time.”
Endurance is also one of the most famous shipwrecks, perhaps on par with the Titanic. It is a relic of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, when explorers made complex, adventurous and hugely popular expeditions to the continent and the poles. Some, like Roald Amundsen, have been successful. Others, like Robert Falcon Scott, died in the process.
Shackleton failed to achieve his goal, but when he returned to England to save all of his crew from an epic voyage on a perilous seafaring ship, he was hailed as a hero. Today, he is still mentioned in books, movies and even business school courses, where the expedition is considered a a case study of effective leadership.
“I was just as fascinated by Shackleton and Endurance as anyone,” said Caroline Alexander, an author and co-curator of a 1999 exhibit about Endurance expeditions at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. anyone. Of the wreck, she said, “it’s almost sentimental than, say, historically rigorous.”
The expedition to find it, funded at a cost of more than $10 million by an unnamed donor, will have less than two weeks to locate the wreck after the icebreaker reaches the Weddell Sea. If Endurance is found, the drone will accurately photograph, video and laser scan the aircraft. But the site will not be disturbed, as it has been claimed to be Historical sites under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement signed in 1959 to preserve the continent for peaceful purposes.
The wreck is thought to be in relatively good shape because the water is cold and there are no wood-eating creatures in the Antarctic waters.
Thanks to Endurance’s captain and navigator, Frank Worsley, whose basic navigational tools were able to locate the ship around the time it sank, the expedition believes the wreck lies within a 7 mile x 14 mile area in the western Weddell region.
“We knew pretty much where we needed to go,” said John Shears, Endurance22 team leader, who is on the 25th expedition to Antarctica. And so far this season (it’s summer in Antarctica), satellite imagery shows the packing ice isn’t too bad. Mr Shears said: “We are very optimistic that we will go with the ship through the wreck area.
But a change in wind or a sudden drop in temperature can change things in a hurry, as Shackleton has learned the hard way. If the ice can’t reach the wreck site, the expedition has an audacious Plan B. It includes the use of two helicopters to maneuver equipment and technicians to an iceberg, where they would drill a three-foot-wide hole and launch submersibles from there.
Lasse Rabenstein, the expedition’s chief scientist, and the other sea ice specialists on board will have to choose a buoy that can safely support the crew and equipment. But there’s another wrinkle, Dr. Rabenstein says. Because it will take several days to set up camp on the surface of the ship, it will be his and others’ task to choose a place “so that we can arrive at the wreck site two days later,” Dr. Rabenstein said. “And that’s a most delicate question.”
An earlier expedition three years ago ended in failure when an old tech submersible was lost before technicians could determine if it had identified the wreck. Newer ones will be connected to the surface by fiber optic cables that can provide images and data in real time.
Built in Norway of giant wooden boards, powered by both steam and sail, Endurance is designed to withstand the extreme pressures of moving through freezing ice.
Shackleton set sail in late 1914 with a crew of 27, arriving at Vahsel Bay on the east side of the Weddell Sea. The plan was for Shackleton and a small group to cruise across the vast Antarctic ice sheet to Antarctica, as Amundsen did first in 1911, but then continue on to the Ross Sea on the other side of the continent.
They never reached the starting point. In early 1915, about 100 miles from the bay, the Endurance became trapped in Weddell’s iceberg. Shackleton and his crew watched for months as the ship came under pressure from the ice that had accumulated around it. Eventually, the crew crashed into the ice and depleted Endurance’s food, stockpile, and pretty much everything else, including three open lifeboats, before it sank in November.
The rest of the story is the content of the legend. The following April, when the ice broke, all 28 men took a lifeboat to Elephant Island, just a short distance from a rock jutting north of the Antarctic Peninsula. From there, Shackleton, Worsley and four others, enduring icy weather and rough seas, rowed one of the 22-foot 800-mile boats to the nearest inhabited island, South Georgia.
It was an extraordinary feat of sailing, soon followed by an extraordinary feat of rock climbing, in which Shackleton and two others crossed the island’s peaks and glaciers for the first time to a whaling station in opposite. From there, he organized the rescue of other men, who were rescued alive, within a few months.
Donald Lamont, president of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, which organized the expedition, said: “There are many people familiar with the story. “But there are also a lot of people across the globe who don’t know the story at all.” So the expedition team includes digital media specialists who will document the search via streaming and, if the wreck is found, the images and data collected from the site. This spot could become the basis for museum exhibits.
Understand the latest news on climate change
“It was a springboard for the human stories of the people there,” Mr. Lamont said. (Once governor of the Falkland Islands, he won’t be on board. “I’m so happy to sit in the warmth and comfort of the UK and say, ‘Goodbye and good luck.'”)
Even if the wreck is never found, the expedition will help scientists better understand the ice in the Weddell Sea and how it is changing as the planet warms because of greenhouse gas emissions.
Among the scientists on board will be Stefanie Arndt, a sea ice researcher from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. Dr. Arndt participated in Mosaic Science Expedition of 2019-20, in which an icebreaker was drifting across the Arctic Ocean. But her specialty is actually Antarctic ice, so she jumped at the chance to join this one.
Dr. Arndt will sample and study the properties of sea ice, which is partly affected by the snowfall on it. Unlike sea ice in the Arctic, which has decreased seasonally over decades as the Earth warms, the amount of sea ice around Antarctica has remained relatively constant. Dr. Arndt will be looking for signs that long-term changes may be starting.
But she’s also looking forward to finding the Endurance. “This is a really big thing,” she said. “And for me, it’s really special. The first book I read about Antarctica was about the Shackleton expedition. For me, this is the beginning of polar science. ”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/climate/shackleton-endurance-shipwreck-search.html Start Searching for Shackleton’s Durability, ‘Inaccessible Shipwreck’