19 Apr 2018

Expedition hopes to find Shackleton's Endurance

From Morning Report, 8:51 am on 19 April 2018

A British-led scientific expedition is hoping to find arguably the most famous ship in Antarctic history – Ernest Shackleton's Endurance.

Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), British sailor and explorer. The boat "Endurance" in the ice of the Weddell Sea. October 1915. RV-67601© Collection Roger-Viollet / Roger-Viollet

Photo: AFP

The Endurance sank in 1915 after being trapped then crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea and its wreck lies in 3000 metres of water.

The crew escaped in lifeboats and were eventually all rescued after Shackleton and five of his men made an epic 1300km voyage to South Georgia in a 6-metre open boat to raise the alarm.

Next summer's expedition to find the remains of the ship will be led by Professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and he says the expedition has a good chance of succeeding.

The wreck of the vessel is just 300km offshore and the crew intend to use autonomous underwater vehicles to help with the search, Professor Dowdeswell says.

If they get good sea ice conditions the chances of finding it are quite good, he says,

“If the sea ice conditions are poor then it’s a very problematic place to get to and of course Sir Ernest Shackleton and his colleagues found that out just over 100 years ago.”

Frank Worsley.

Frank Worsley. Photo: Supplied / Canterbury Museum 1981.110.91

Crew on the expedition will be aided by the measurements made by New Zealander Frank Worsley who was an Endurance crew member and navigator, he says.

“Frank Worsley made the last measurements of the ship’s position where it sank beneath the sea ice and Worsley, of course, was also the navigator of the James Caird that made the boat journey after Endurance had been sunk from Elephant Island to South Georgia.

“So we know probably - to within a kilometre or a little better - where the ship went down and it’s usual that when ships sink they don’t sink to the bottom very far from the place where they were last at the surface.”

Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), British sailor and explorer. The boat "Endurance" in the ice of the Weddell Sea. October 1915. RV-67601
© Collection Roger-Viollet / Roger-Viollet

Photo: AFP

As a result, the search area is relatively small, Professor Dowdeswell says.

“The fact we have autonomous underwater vehicles that can be launched and explore tens of kilometres underwater means we don’t have to have the parent ship at the rock site in order to look for it we can look from a distance. This gives us an extra opportunity and extra probability of actually finding the vessel.”

If the Endurance is found, there are plans to make it a permanent monument.

“We’ve got major scientific objectives for the expedition. It would be really interesting just to see what shape the ship was in and one of the aims if we find it to photograph it in very great detail to utilise that information we hope in order to preserve it as a formal Antarctic monument.”