The wreck of the Endurance has been found in Antarctica, 106 years after the historic ship was wrecked in ice packs and sank during an expedition by explorer Ernest Shackleton.
A team of adventurers, marine archaeologists and technicians have located the wreck at the bottom of the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula, using undersea drones. For more than two weeks the team had been searching a 150-square-mile area around where the ship went down in 1915, battling sea ice and freezing temperatures.
The Endurance, a 144-foot-tall wooden ship with three masts, holds a respected place in Arctic history because it gave birth to one of the greatest survival stories in the annals of exploration. Its location, 10,000 feet in waters that are among the most icy on Earth, has made it among the most famous shipwrecks ever to be found.
The discovery of the wreck was announced, on Wednesday, in a statement of the exploratory search mission, Stamina 22.
The first photos of the ship since those taken by Shackleton’s photographer, Frank Hurley, revealed parts of the ship in stunning detail. The stern image shows the name ENDURANCE above a five-pointed star, which was left over by Shackleton before he purchased the ship, when it was named Polaris.
Another photo, taken from above, shows the ship’s open aft deck and entrance to the main quarters. The pressure of the ice caused serious damage to the carrying capacity before it sank, and in the photo it appears that the front of the ship is badly damaged.
With the cold water and a lack of wood-eating marine creatures in the Weddell Sea, the expedition’s director of exploration, Minson Bond, said he expected the ship’s remains to be relatively well preserved. The stern, in particular, looked remarkably immaculate.
The wreck, which cost more than $10 million, was searched by a donor wishing to remain anonymous from an icebreaker in South Africa that Left Cape Town in early February. Aside from some technical glitches involving the two submarines, and a portion of a day spent in the ice when operations were suspended, the search proceeded relatively smoothly.
Battery-powered submarines were combing the sea floor twice a day, for six hours at a time. They used sonar to scan a patch of the smooth sea floor for anything rising above it. Once the wreck was located several days ago, the equipment was replaced with high-resolution cameras and other tools to make detailed photographs and surveys.
Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, the six-decade-old treaty intended to protect the region, the wreck is considered a historic landmark. The submarines did not touch it. Photos and scans will be used as the basis for educational materials and museum exhibits.
Shackleton left England aboard the Endurance with a crew of 27 in 1914, bound for a bay on the Weddell Sea that was supposed to be the starting point for an attempt by him and a small group to be the first to cross Antarctica. This was near the end of what became known as the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, which included trips by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who in 1911 was the first to reach the pole, and Robert Falcon Scott, a Briton who then died. Access it after a month.
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Shackleton never reached the Pole or beyond, but his leadership in saving all his crew and his exploits, which included an 800-mile open-boat voyage across the treacherous Southern Ocean to the island of South Georgia, made him a hero in Britain.
Shackleton stumbled due to Weddell’s thick, long-lasting sea ice, which results from a circular current that keeps a lot of ice inside. In early January 1915, Bearing became stuck less than 100 miles from its destination and drifted with the ice for more than 10 months as the ice slowly crushed it.
When the ship was damaged, the crew set up camp on the ice and lived on the ice until it crashed five months after the ship sank.
The Weddell Sea is still much icier than other Antarctic waters, although ice conditions in recent years have been milder than usual. This was the situation this year, and it helped the expedition get to the search site more easily and stay there safely. The Agulhas II icebreaker left the research area on Tuesday for an 11-day trip back to Cape Town.
In addition to the expedition team, several ice researchers were on board, including Stephanie Arndt of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. Dr. Arendt, who studies how Antarctic sea ice might change as the world warms due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and others have spent a lot of time drilling the ice. She said on Twitter on Monday that they had collected 630 samples from 17 sites, which she called an “incredible number.”
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