More than a century after it sank, researchers have found Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, one of history’s most famous shipwrecks, deep in the icy waters in Antarctica.
At a depth of 3,008 meters (9,869 feet), Endurance was discovered in the Weddell Sea about six kilometers (four miles) from the location where pack ice had progressively engulfed it in 1915.
Shackleton’s daring escape, which he and his 27 companions performed on foot and in boats, cemented his place in expeditionary legend.

The ‘HMS Endurance’ caught in the ice in the Weddell Sea of the Antarctic during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, circa 1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

During Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in the Weddell Sea of the Antarctic, the “HMS Endurance” got stuck in the ice. This happened around 1915. Hulton Archive/Getty Images provided the image.
“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and received images of Endurance,” said Mansun Bound, the expedition’s head of exploration.
The most exquisite wooden wreckage I’ve ever seen, in my opinion. It is in outstanding condition, stands upright, and is proud of the ocean floor. You can even see “Endurance” arced across the stern, he said in a statement.
The mission, which was organized by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, sailed from Cape Town on February 5 with a South African icebreaker in the hopes of locating the Endurance before the end of the summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Photo courtesy of Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

As a part of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the Endurance’s crew was tasked with making the first land crossing of Antarctica between 1914 and 1917.

However, their three-masted sailship capsized in the furious Weddell Sea and was lost.
Just east of the Larsen ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula in January 1915, the lumber ship was stuck in pack ice. After being gradually destroyed, it eventually sank ten months later.
The worst sea in the world
The crew pitched their tents on the sea ice and continued to drift north until the ice broke up, at which point they jumped into lifeboats.

FMHT/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The majority of the men were thrown down and a camp was made after they first sailed to Elephant Island, a treeless, desolate wilderness.
Then, using just a sextant for navigation, Shackleton sailed with five companions to South Georgia, a British territory with a whaling station, for 1,300 kilometers (800 miles).
Many people consider the 17-day voyage on the 6.9-meter (22.4-foot) open boat to be one of the most remarkable accomplishments in maritime history since it defied ferocious seas and icy weather.
The expedition’s 28 participants all made it out alive.

 

Explorers posing on the deck of the ‘Endurance’ during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-17, led by Ernest Shackleton, 7th February 1915. (Photo by Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images)

Photographs taken on the “Endurancedeck “‘s by explorers on February 7, 1915, during the Ernest Shackleton-led Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which took place between 1914 and 1917. (Image courtesy of Frank Hurley/Getty Images/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge).
Modern researchers used underwater drones to find and video shipwrecks in the arid Weddell Sea.
Even the most sophisticated icebreakers may run afoul of it due to the sea ice that is kept in place by its swirling circulation.
Shackleton called the sinking location “the worst section of the worst sea on the earth.”
The region is still one of the ocean’s most difficult to navigate areas.

“This has been the most complex subsea project ever performed,” said Nico Vincent, the mission’s subsea project manager.
The 44-meter-long (144-foot-long) ship was photographed in breathtaking detail by underwater drones, just like the Titanic.
The helm has survived more than a century below, with equipment stacked against the taffrail as though Shackleton’s crew had just departed from it.
The ice that has sunk in has ruined the ship’s timbers, yet the ship as a whole is still intact. Portholes provided a hint as to what might be concealed inside one of the masts that had split in two across the deck.

SA Agulhas II is a South African polar icebreaker with state of the art technical equipment on board. Photo courtesy of Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Sea anemones, sponges, and other small aquatic life forms resided in the debris, but they didn’t seem to have affected it.
Adrian Glover, a deep-sea researcher at the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom, stated, “It’s pretty remarkable just to see the images of that ship on the seafloor.”
It’s not a forgiving environment, as Shackleton and others found, he told AFP. There, the sea ice can quickly pile up and either shatter a ship or at the very least slow it down.
The icebreaker is owned by South Africa’s environment ministry, which also reported that an earlier attempt in 2019 had been unsuccessful in finding the Endurance.
Under international law, the wreck has been recognized as a historic site. The fact that the ship was only open to videotaping and scanning, not to being touched, suggested that no artifacts could be transported back to the surface.

 

SA Agulhas II is a South African polar icebreaker with state of the art technical equipment on board. Photo courtesy of Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

The team used Saab’s Sabertooth underwater search drones, which could penetrate the thickest ice in the Weddell Sea.
During the flight, researchers looked at weather patterns and ice drifts to study climate change.

A sea ice expert from the Alfred Wegener Institut in Germany named Stefanie Arndt tweeted that she will be returning with 630 samples of ice and snow. She said, “That’s a tremendous quantity.
Now the team must finish the 11-day journey back to the port in Cape Town.

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