Researchers have discovered the remarkably well-preserved wreck of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, in 10,000 feet of freezing water, a century after it was engulfed by Antarctic ice during what s turned out to be one of the most heroic expeditions in history.
A team of marine archaeologists, engineers and other scientists used an icebreaker ship and underwater drones to locate the wreckage at the bottom of the Weddell Sea near the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust’s Endurance22 research expedition announced the find on Wednesday.
Images and video of the wreck show the three-masted wooden vessel in pristine condition, with gold leaf lettering reading “Endurance” still affixed to the stern and the vessel’s lacquered wooden helm still standing, as if the captain could return to direct it. at any time.
“This is by far the most beautiful wooden wreck I have ever seen,” said Mensun Bound, the exploration manager. Bound noted that the wreck is still standing, clear of the seabed “and in a brilliant state of preservation”.
The discovery is “a titanic find” in “one of the most challenging environments in the world”, said maritime historian Steven Schwankert, who was not on the expedition.
The combination of deep, dark waters – sunlight does not penetrate 10,000 feet – freezing temperatures and sea ice have frustrated past efforts to find Endurance, but also explain why the wreckage is in such good condition today.
The Weddell Sea floor is “a very inhospitable environment for just about anything, especially the kind of bacteria, mites and wood-eating worms that would otherwise like to munch on a wooden wreck,” Schwankert said. .
The Endurance22 expedition set sail from Cape Town, South Africa, in early February in a vessel capable of breaking through ice 3 feet (1 meter) thick.
The team, which included more than 100 researchers and crew, deployed underwater drones that combed the seabed for two weeks in the area where the ship is believed to have sunk in 1915.
“We made polar history with the discovery of Endurance and completed the world’s toughest search for wrecks,” said expedition leader John Shears.
British explorer Shackleton never achieved his ambition of becoming the first person to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. In fact, he never set foot on the continent during the failed Endurance Expedition, although he had visited Antarctica on previous voyages.
“Although it was designed to withstand collisions with pack ice and to break through pack ice, Endurance could not withstand being crushed by thick sea ice,” said Ann Coats, maritime historian at the University of Portsmouth.
Shackleton himself noted the difficulty of the effort in his diary.
“The end finally came around 5 p.m.,” he wrote. “She was doomed, no ship built by human hands could have withstood the pressure.”
Before the ship disappeared 3,000 meters under icy waters, Shackleton’s crew loaded food and other supplies into three lifeboats to escape and set up camp on the pack ice, where they used sled dogs to transport their supplies, according to Shackleton’s diary.
Shackleton and his captain, Frank Worsley, then sailed 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) of treacherous icy waters in a 22-foot (7-meter) vessel to South Georgia Island, a remote whaling community, to get help. This successful journey is considered a heroic feat of courage, and Shackleton’s decisive response to impending tragedy is still held up today as a model of how to lead in difficult circumstances.
“Shackleton was an excellent planner and a good improviser. I have a feeling that today’s polar explorers would not survive the same kinds of things that he endured,” said Anna Wahlin, polar researcher at the University of Gothenburg, who has just returned. a two-month mission studying ice shelves and warming ocean currents in Antarctica.
In Antarctica, “everything is gray or white”, and after only a few weeks, explorers “begin to miss smelling the Earth, walking in the forest, hearing birdsong, seeing things that are green,” she said.
The expedition to find Endurance comes a century after Shackleton died in 1922. British historian and journalist Dan Snow, who accompanied the searchers, tweeted that the discovery of the wreckage on Saturday came “100 years day for day since Shackleton was buried”.
The ship is protected as a historic monument under the 6-decade-old Antarctic Treaty which aims to protect the region’s environment.
Searchers filmed the wreckage, but nothing was recovered or disturbed. Instead, expedition organizers say they want to use laser scans to create a 3D model of the ship that can be displayed in both traveling exhibits and a permanent museum exhibit.
“Shackleton, we like to think, would have been proud of us,” Bound wrote of the expedition in a blog post.
Shackleton’s lost wreck discovered off Antarctica
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