Covering an area of approximately 2.8 million square kilometres between the South Shetland Islands and the continent of Antarctica, the Weddell Sea is among the harshest and most treacherous environments in the world. Very few ships have ventured into the area in which the Expedition will travel, much of which is dominated by heavy sea ice and massive, permanent ice shelves. This is a forbidding and extreme environment that can only be reached by specialist ice-strengthened ships like the S.A. Agulhas II.
In recent years, the most significant environmental changes taking place in the Weddell Sea have been the thinning and rapid retreat of parts of the Larsen Ice Shelf. The Larsen A and B ice shelves collapsed in only a matter of weeks in 1995 and 2002, respectively. In addition, one of the largest iceberg calving events ever recorded took place from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017. This Expedition will use aerial drones and satellite remote sensing to assist the experienced ice captain in finding the easiest route through the ice.
The Weddell Sea has been put forward for consideration for special protection as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), as a result of its unique and rare ecosystems.
The Larsen C Ice Shelf of the Weddell Sea is presently the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica, with an area of about 44,000 km².
Iceberg A68, which has an area of around 6,000 km² and is more than 200 metres thick, calved from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017.