Over 100 years ago, an incredible story of survival transpired at the bottom of the world. The “Endurance” was a ship used to transport an expedition team, headed by Ernest Shackleton, to cross Antarctica on foot. But, instead, the ship and the crew got trapped in the heavy sea ice pack before reaching the continent. The Endurance slowly got crushed until it sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea. Remarkably, the entire crew survived – but not without a lot of hardship over the years of being stranded.
As of this week, this nearly 150-foot three-masted wrecked wooden ship has finally been found again, at 10,000 feet underwater in the Weddell Sea, by a team of explorers, technicians and marine archaeologists. Its relatively pristine appearance is due to the very cold water and lack of wood-eating marine organisms. These types of organisms have wreaked havoc on shipwrecks elsewhere in the world’s seas. There IS an impressive diversity of deep-sea marine life though, including anemones, sponges and brittlestars, which filter-feed nutrition from the cold deep waters.
Underwater submersibles outfitted with sonar were used to scan swaths of the seabed, looking for anything sticking out. Once the ship was found, high-resolution cameras and other instruments were deployed to make more detailed images and scans. Looking forward to seeing more of these as they become available!
The Weddell Sea retains much of its sea ice from year to year because of cold winds from the south and a circular current, or gyre, that keeps the ice from drifting into warmer waters that would cause it to melt more. But while the Weddell Sea remains far more icy at the surface than other Antarctic waters, climate change is also starting to impact the region. It’s starting to see stronger storms with warmer air and faster winds that can push the ice out further into warmer waters. These changing conditions allowed for easier (though still challenging) passage for a modern-day icebreaking ship to punch through the sea ice and finally locate the resting spot of the historic Endurance.
photo: Ulyana Horodyskyj, in Antarctica