How Shackleton’s Endurance Was Found

When perhaps the most famous shipwreck of Mensun Bound’s long career as a marine archaeologist detectedhe went to see some penguins a mile away.

It was the afternoon of March 5. Mr. Bound was sailing on an icebreaker in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica with the Endurance expedition22, hunting for the centuries-old remains of Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance.

Technicians flew a drone under the sea day and night for two weeks, scanning the seabed with sonar for the 144-foot wooden vessel, which had been crushed in its class. Weddell’s treacherous ice and sank in 1915 during Shackleton’s ill-fated attempt to become the first to cross the South Pole.

So far there’s been no sign of Endurance beneath the ice-covered waters, and the icebreaker is just four days away from returning to port in Cape Town. Mr Bound, director of exploration, who previously described the Endurance as an “inaccessible wreck” because of its location in one of the most remote and inhospitable seas in the world, and John Shears, expedition leader, needs rest.

“We talked about how we needed to get off the train to stretch our legs,” said Mr Bound. in a later interview with Reaching out to the world, a nonprofit educational group that has produced video streaming from the ship for classes. “And we decided today was the day.”

At 4 p.m., they walked to an iceberg submerged in ice about a mile away. The view is stunning and there are even a few Adélie penguins nearby to keep them company.

Upon returning to the ship, they are summoned to the bridge, where they meet Nicolas Vincent, curator of the expedition’s underwater elements. He was holding up his phone so they could see a picture on it,” Bound recalled in the interview. “And he said ‘Gents, I want to introduce you to Endurance.’

“That was the first good picture of it,” said Bound. “I mean, it’s just unbelievable.”

While he and Mr Shear were leaving the ship, the drone sent back some intriguing sonar images. Unlike some previous false alarms, upon closer inspection it was revealed that this was from a ship, more or less lying flat on the seabed. It could only be Endurance.

The image Mr. Vincent has on his phone is the first of the ship since the famous pictures were taken by Shackleton photographer Frank Hurley while Endurance was being ravaged by ice.

Four days later discovery has been announced to the world, with the release of several photos and a short video. Endurance, whose shipwreck led to one of the greatest stories of leadership and survival in the history of exploration, with Shackleton and 27 of his men all arriving safely, in good condition. In relatively pristine condition, her name is still engraved on the stern, the glass is still intact in the door openings, the adhesion between the planks of the hull can still be seen.

Mr Bound, whose archeology credits include the excavation of a 2,600-year-old Etruscan ship in Italy, described the remains of Endurance as “the best wooden shipwreck I’ve seen – so far.” “.

The expedition, funded by more than $10 million from an unnamed sponsor, was left South Africa on board the icebreaker Agulhas II in early February. She arrived on 16 February at the search site, a 150 square mile area selected based on the last known location of Endurance, as identified by Shackleton’s captain and navigator, Frank Worsley.

An earlier expedition three years earlier ended in failure when technicians lost contact with the undersea drone and it was not recovered.

This time the expedition had two newer drones, a primary and a backup, which were flattened torpedo-like devices about 13 feet long and 5 feet wide with propulsion engines that allowed them to fly. move in all directions.

Like those on the previous expedition, these drones can operate independently, pre-programmed with coordinates and search patterns. But unlike previous devices, these are tethered to ships by a thin, mile-long fiber-optic cable that may not be shared as the drones travel to the seafloor. The cable transmits images to the ship in real time, but can also be used to send new instructions to the drone to change its course if necessary.

Chad Bonin, who oversees operations of the drones, said in the same interview that on March 5, the main drone – named Ellie, arrived at Elephant Island, where Shackleton and the pilot flew. His crew sailed to safety for the first time after Endurance sank – having done about 30 dives. .

Mr. Bonin said there were some initial hiccups. The fiber optic cable broke during a dive and had to be reconnected. Cold water and high pressure at 10,000m caused problems with one of the propulsion engines. There’s also the problem with the winch used to lift the drone, which weighs more than 3,000 pounds, into the water.

“Once we worked out the nitty gritty and everything else, everything was great after that,” Mr. Bonin told Reach the World. “From that point on, it just dived after diving,” he added. Each dive lasts between four and eight hours, with an interval of several hours to recharge the drone’s battery.

The drone carries radar equipment on either side, which can scan a mile-wide swath of the sea floor while flying about 225 feet away. Mr. Bonin and others watched the images, staring at a computer screen in a cramped operations center in the hold.

“The seabed in the Weddell Sea is quite flat,” he said. “So anything out of the ordinary will emerge as a red flag.”

Over two weeks, the team saw some interesting things, but upon closer inspection, all of the images turned out to be natural features, or were excluded as not Endurance.

However, even with the deadline to leave the search site, Mr. Bonin remains optimistic.

“Every day I would walk on deck and say, ‘Today is the day,’” he recalls.

When he first saw the image on March 5, he was excited but also cautious. “My first reaction was – Ha! We have found it. But we have to verify.” It didn’t take long to be convinced.

The drone returned to the ship, and technicians swapped out the sonar equipment for a high-resolution camera and a laser surveying device to scan the site in high detail.

Mr Bound had hoped the wreck would be well preserved, thanks to the cold water and the absence of parasitic worms that feed on the wood and have ravaged wrecks elsewhere.

Combined with the water clarity, the drone’s camera revealed remarkable details. A crew boot is seen in one spot. Elsewhere, the images clearly show where some of the ship’s wood has been sawed off for use on the ice. The camera can even see through windows into some cabins.

The images and scans will be used for educational materials and exhibits.

“We come, we see, we measure the details,” said Bound. They then left without touching anything because the wreck is 60 years old under Antarctic Treaty protection.

Before leaving the Weddell Sea, the ship’s expedition team and crew held a celebration party on the ice, setting up a large tent with food, drink and music.

The icebreaker is currently heading towards Cape Town and is expected to arrive there in about a week.

On Friday, the ship stopped at Grytviken, a former whaling station on South Georgia Island. Shackleton and five of his crew arrived on the island in May 1916 after a 16-day 800-mile voyage across the Southern Ocean in an open lifeboat.

After arranging the rescue of the remaining crew from Elephant Island, Shackleton returned to England to a hero’s welcome. He then organized another Antarctic expedition and returned to South Georgia in 1921, where he died of a heart attack at the age of 47.

He was buried there, and members of the expedition team visited his grave, leaving new images of his ship on the granite stele.

Stefanie Arndt, a scientist from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, who was on board the ship studying how the Weddell Sea ice might change as the world warms, described the visit on Twitter.

Dr Arndt wrote: “We ended this historic expedition yesterday with a visit to South Georgia. “Here we visited the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton – and brought his ship back to him in pictures.

“An emotional ending to a long story.”

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