An expedition to Antarctica hopes to locate Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s long-lost ship The Endurance, which sank to the depths in 1915 during the ill-fated research mission. Shackleton, the prolific explorer who led three expeditions to Antarctica and cemented a legendary place in the history of adventure and geography, narrowly escaped the research vessel along with his crew when it was crushed by sea ice.
The members of the Weddell Sea Expedition 2019 believe the Endurance has been sitting idly on the frigid bottom of the Weddell Sea for more than a century. The crew on board the Dutch research ship the Agulhas II has completed its initial mission of studying the Larsen-C ice shelf. Now the team is undertaking the second part of the mission, sailing through thick sea ice en route to the ship’s presumed coordinates.
Frank Worsely, the captain of the Endurance way back then, measured the exact location of the ship when it sunk using a sextant and chronometers. With the records preserved and conditions favorable, the crew thinks it has a reasonable chance of locating the famous wreckage—if the weather holds out.
According to a press release, the Weddell Sea Expedition will deploy autonomous underwater vehicles made by the independent company Oceans Infinity. Those underwater drones will work in tandem with its own remotely operated vehicle. The instruments will be key in finding the wreckage, which researchers believe might be in pretty good condition. Animals that erode wooden wreckage don’t exist in abundance in colder waters.
The crew doesn’t plan to touch the wreckage if found, only to take photos and document its current state. Marine biologist Mensun Bound told the BBC that there’s a good chance “that her hull is semi-upright and still in a semi-coherent state.” A blog post Bound wrote on the expedition’s website calls for further optimism:
Although her hull had been ruptured in places by the ice (and indeed by Shackleton’s men) before she sank, I still believe, she would have retained enough of her structural integrity to have survived impact in reasonably coherent state. Of the wooden wrecks I have seen, most of their hulls had opened up, but, this had nearly always happened after deposition.
The demise of the Endurance aided greatly in cementing Shackleton’s legend: When it was initially crushed by sea ice in February 1915, Shackleton and his crew stayed with the ship until November. They braved the dogged conditions and sought refuge by sailing in lifeboats to the unpopulated Elephant Island. Shackleton and five other men eventually sought help by making an 800-mile open-boat journey to South Georgia. Shackleton later returned for his men in a tugboat and brought them all to safety, ensuring everyone’s survival.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics