Legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship—Endurance—perished in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica over 100 years ago. In 1915, the three-masted vessel was mangled by ice and sank 3,000 meters below the surface, but researchers from the University of Cambridge have launched the Weddell Sea Expedition to locate its remains, according to the official website of the expedition.
The team is setting a milestone this year as the first-ever group to use Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) in the search for Shackleton’s ship. The S.A. Agulhas II vessel embarked on its mission in early January (you can track its location here). What’s remarkable is AUVs can be deployed, reach a wreck that’s hundreds of miles away, collect data and photos, then make the journey back. That’s important seeing as this is one of the most inhospitable marine environments on the globe.
The group will also study the area where a massive iceberg broke off the Larsen C Ice Shelf, “to document rich and little-studied marine life of the western Weddell Sea ecosystem…[and] solve unanswered questions about one of the most remote areas of our planet,” they say.
The team will study wildlife in the area and hopefully identify new species.
“Only a couple of vessels have ever been to that part of the western Weddell Sea since Shackleton and the Endurance sank there in 1915,” Dr. John Shears, polar geographer and co-leader of the expedition, told Geographical.co.UK. “It’s going to be a huge logistical effort and we are under no illusions as to how difficult it’s going to be.”
Along with AUVs, the expedition is using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to help “collect samples of flora and fauna” from the Antarctic seabed, aerial drones to help with reconnaissance and surveys of areas the team can’t reach, as well as sediment cores that will “sample the organisms that live on or just below the surface of the ocean floor.”
The group has brought together a number of expert scientists in various fields, including marine biology and oceanography, to take a 45-day exploration of the ice shelves in the Weddell Sea, as well as the area where Shackleton’s ship sank. The wreckage of the ship has never been found, and while many researchers have speculated about where the ship is, it’s remained a mystery all these years later.
As we’ve previously written at Men’s Journal, “Shackleton’s story of survival began when the expedition ship Endurance was crushed by pack ice as the British explorer and his crew of 27 made their way to the frozen continent, which they intended to cross on foot. Stuck on the ice, the crew rowed to remote Elephant Island, where Shackleton made the historic decision to take six men onward to South Georgia in a desperate final bid for life, a struggle Sir Edmund Hillary later described as the greatest survival story ever told.”
Read more about the expedition, the search for Shackleton’s ship, and more on the research the team will be doing at the official expedition website.