The Weddell Sea Expedition, which is funded by the Netherlands-based not-for profit charity the Flotilla Foundation, is pleased to announce that it has successfully completed the scientific research programme at the Larsen C Ice Shelf and is now sailing towards the site of the wreck of Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance.
The Expedition’s research team of world-leading glaciologists, marine biologists, and oceanographers has collected extensive measurements, samples and survey data around the Larsen C Ice Shelf and A68 iceberg, which will provide new information on this very remote and little studied extreme environment.
The Expedition vessel, S.A. Agulhas II, is now sailing towards the site of the wreck of Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance, which was crushed by sea ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in November 1915. From its current position, the S.A. Agulhas II still has 120 km of sea ice to break to reach the search area, pushing the S.A Agulhas II to her limits. However, with ice and weather conditions currently looking favourable, the Expedition is hopeful of being able to reach the search location in the coming days.
The search area has been defined by using the precise and detailed records kept by the Captain of Endurance, Captain Frank Worsley, who used a sextant and chronometers to measure the exact location of the ship in 1915. On arrival at the wreck site, the team will deploy Ocean Infinity’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from S.A. Agulhas II and attempt to locate and survey the wreck on the sea bed. If Endurance is found, the wreck will not be touched or disturbed as its protection and conservation is of paramount importance, but images and footage of the vessel will be collected.
Director of Exploration on the Expedition Mensun Bound, said: “It is with great excitement that we begin the exploration phase of the Expedition, where we hope to achieve what was thought to be impossible; locating Endurance, the vessel which sunk in the harshest of environments. Although the odds of success were initially against us, the mood within the team is upbeat given the favourable ice and weather conditions which we think will allow us to reach the search area. We now view this as the best opportunity in history to locate Endurance and we are
relishing the chance to be involved in a search of such significance. We believe that through the deployment of the best possible technology and a world-leading exploration team, we can achieve something truly unique that would be a landmark moment in polar history.”
Professor Julian Dowdeswell, the Expedition Chief Scientists and Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, said: “We have acquired detailed observations on the glaciology, oceanography, biology, and geology of the little known area around the Larsen C Ice shelf and the huge A68 iceberg. Analysis of this data will allow us to better understand the contemporary stability and past behaviour of Larsen C, with its wider implications for ice sheet stability more generally.”
Polar geographer and Expedition Leader, Dr John Shears, said: “We are very pleased to report that we have successfully completed the initial phase of our groundbreaking scientific research program. This is truly remarkable given that we lost vital science time during the search and recovery of one of the AUVs which was lost under a thick ice ice floe for four days. The research team on board, as well as the officers and crew of S.A. Agulhas II, must take enormous credit for the work they have done to date, working all hours in snow and freezing cold, gathering data which will provide a great and important insight into the environment of the Weddell Sea We now look forward to the next stage of the Expedition, as we begin the search for Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance and we sincerely hope to get to the wreck site. It will be an epic and exciting challenge!”
Further updates regarding the search for ‘Endurance’ and the continuing scientific research of the Expedition will be provided in due course.