Wednesday 12 December 2018

Scientists race to find lost shipwreck of Shackleton's Endurance

The Endurance pictured trapped in the sea ice of the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic
The Endurance pictured trapped in the sea ice of the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic

Henry Bodkin

When on November 21, 1915, the polar explorer ship Endurance finally yielded to the Antarctic pack ice, Irishman Ernest Shackleton and his crew began one of the most gruelling survival attempts in history.

Their five-month ordeal on the ice floes followed by the all-or-nothing 720-nautical-mile dash to South Georgia has since become the stuff of legend, pored over by scholars and adventurers for more than a century.

But of the ship itself, no trace has been detected since the day it went down.

Yesterday, a British-led team announced it was setting out to find the wreck of Endurance, thought to be at rest around 3km beneath the Larsen C Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea.

Operating from the research vessel SA Agulhas II, the expedition will use the most advanced unmanned submarines in the world to scour the sea bed.

But it will also arrive armed with an equally important tool - information from the diary of Captain Frank Worsley, the renowned navigator who was busy recording precise sextant readings even as the ship went down.

Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Shackleton

At least three previous plans to find the stricken Endurance have failed.

If the new Weddell Sea Expedition 2019 succeeds, the ship will be listed as a historic monument, protected under international law.

In 2013, scientists at London's Natural History Museum said they believed the ship may have been preserved from wood-boring worms by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

"If the expedition finds the wreck we will survey, photograph and film it and document its condition," said Professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, who is leading the team.

"If there are deep-water marine species colonising the wreck, the marine biologists may try to obtain scientific samples using the remotely operated vehicle, if that can be deployed above the site from the ship." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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