ANTARCTICA – 1916: Members of an expedition team led by Irish explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton pull one of their lifeboats across the snow in the Antarctic, following the loss of the ‘Endurance’. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Thanks to BBC for this:

Sir Ernest Shackleton was undoubtedly one of the greatest explorers of the 20th Century.

His extraordinary tales of adventure and immeasurable courage have inspired generations of pioneers and his legacy, one of bravery, determination and incomparable endurance in the face of enormous challenges, lives on to this day.

Shackleton’s 1914-1916 journey to Antarctica, aboard the ill-fated Endurance, is widely considered to be one of the most astonishing tales from the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration.

Shackleton wanted to go on an Antarctica expedition. He ended up receiving over 5,000 applications!

He only chose 26 people.

Among his many requirements (mostly to do with practical abilities) he also quizzed potential sailors on a range of slightly more bizarre skills, such as their ability to hold a tune.

Shackleton also recruited 69 dogs for the mission, all of whom were assigned a caretaker from the crew.

Sir Ernest Shackleton The Endurance

The Endurance mission set off August 1914, on the exact same day that Germany declared war on Russia and just a few days after the outbreak of WWI.

Shackleton actually offered his ship, crew and provisions to the British Admiralty to help in the war effort, but they urged him to pursue his quest with a one-word telegram:


After sailing southward for months and battling increasingly hostile conditions (and ice floes) for over six weeks, the Endurance eventually became totally entrapped by pack ice on January 18, 1915 in the Weddell Sea.

Shackleton and his crew were trapped for 10 months before having to evacuate a sinking ship.

The story of Shackleton’s miraculous escape and survival of all his crew is legendary. We would like to remind you that the man sailed 809 miles in nothing more than a glorified rowboat, battled treacherous seas with little navigation equipment, to then climb a mountain range, a few glaciers and then go back with help to rescue 22 of his men stuck on Elephant Island. Whew!

Where the Endurance went down is well known; the ship’s captain Frank Worsley logged the position using a sextant and a theodolite.

But reaching this part of the Weddell Sea, just east of the Larsen ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula, is extremely difficult, even for modern ice-breakers.

Sir Ernest Shackleton The Endurance

It’s going to take a monumental effort to locate the iconic ship of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. This is the conclusion of scientists who tried and failed in 2019 to find the Endurance, which sank in 9,800 feet of water in the Weddell Sea in 1915.

The team says the sea-ice in the area above the wreck site is nearly always thick and extensive. It means most expeditions would struggle even to get close enough to begin a search.

The Weddell Sea Expedition 2019 did amazingly well, reaching the recognized wreck location and launching an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to survey the ocean floor.

But this robot broke communications with the expedition research vessel, SA Agulhas II, some 20 hours into its mapping operation and was never seen again.

What it might have detected, we’ll never know. Encroaching sea-ice forced the team to abandon its AUV and to vacate the area.

Sir Ernest Shackleton The Endurance

The expedition scientists have now written up an assessment of the local conditions in this unforgiving sector of the Antarctic. They’ve also provided some advice for anyone else who might want to search for Shackleton’s polar yacht.

“To finally locate the Endurance on the seafloor would require favorable sea-ice conditions in the central western Weddell Sea, including the presence of wide (open water) leads,” said Dr Christine Batchelor from the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, UK.

“In addition, a two-ship operation may be needed to break ice and successfully launch and recover an autonomous underwater vehicle,” she told BBC News.

The 2019 team used satellite data to appraise the concentration of sea-ice at the wreck site from 2002 to the present. The group shows that in 14 of the 18 years assessed, the conditions were “bad”. The nearest open water could be 200km or more away.

One of the “good” years was 2002, which allowed the German research vessel Polarstern to make a very close pass and conduct some limited mapping (echosounding) of the seafloor. The resolution was never going to be sharp enough to detect the Endurance but it has yielded interesting insights into the nature of the ocean bed – with encouraging implications for the likely state of the wreck.

Sir Ernest Shackleton The Endurance

Endurance is probably lying on flat terrain that has been undisturbed either by erosion or by underwater landslides. Sediment deposition is also expected to be low, at a rate of less than 1mm a year.

“So, it’s not going to be covered by sediment,” said Prof Julian Dowdeswell, the director of the SPRI.

“It’s not going to be damaged by something coming in from the side. And at 3,000m, it’s way below the maximum depth of any iceberg keel. Glaciologically and geophysically – Endurance should be unharmed.”

This all augurs well for future attempts to find what is among the most famous of all wrecks.

It’s certainly right at the top of the list of targets for David Mearns, whose expertise in finding lost ships is world-renowned.

He commented: “It is a shame the 2019 search failed in their attempt to locate Endurance’s wreck as they had the best ice conditions seen in the past 17 years.

“This proves my long-held contention that a ‘single-ship’ expedition is too risky, even with good ice conditions, and that the key to finding Endurance lies in a different approach,” he told BBC News.

Prof Dowdeswell is pessimistic that anyone would fund a mission with the sole objective of locating the Endurance.

Sir Ernest Shackleton The Endurance

Most future efforts, he believes, will be “add-ons” to more broader scientific expeditions to the region – as was the case with his venture last year which had the primary objective of studying the melting and retreat of the Larsen ice shelves.

“Yes, you want AUVs and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to search for, and to photograph, the wreck, but it’s a great opportunity to use those state-of-the-art vehicles in order to do science; and there is no doubt that we wouldn’t have done as much science without those pieces of kit on board, and we wouldn’t have had that equipment on board unless we were looking for Shackleton’s Endurance. It was a balance between exploration and science,” he said.

Prof Dowdeswell and colleagues on the Weddell Sea Expedition 2019 have published their report in the journal Antarctic Science.

As for Sir Ernest Shackleton, he is buried in Grytvken, South Georgia, a remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

He died there in 1921 at the age of 47 when on route to his 3rd Antarctic expedition, this time to circumnavigate the continent.

Sir Ernest Shackleton may have never reached the South Pole but one of his descendants has. Navy Commander Scott Shackleton (now a professor at UC Berkeley), a distant relative of the legendary explorer, set foot on the South Pole on February 9th, 2010, finally realizing a family dream. He considered it an absolute honor and stated that the only reason he couldn’t shed a tear was because, at -50C, it would freeze in his eyeball. True story.


Grave of Ernest Shackleton, Grytvyken, Island of South Georgia

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