February 24, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Shipwreck under the sea

Ernest Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, photographed for the first time underwater | Image courtesy of Unofficial Networks

Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’ found under Antarctica

By Sofia Hurst
11th March, 2022

Endurance, the infamous ship of Antarctic Explorer Ernest Shackelton, was finally found yesterday, a century after his death. It sank below Antarctic ice in 1915 during an unsuccessful exploration mission of the south pole, and had not been seen or located since.

Endurance was found by Endurance22 – a ‘major international scientific expedition’ in collaboration with the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and kitted out with the latest marine archaeology tech including underwater robots . These scan the depths and sea bed for anything unusual and allow scientists to explore areas unreachable by humans – such as the 3,008m depth the ship was located at.

“The Endurance22 expedition has reached its goal.  We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search.  In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment.”

Dr John Shears, Expedition Leader

The Endurance22 expedition has allowed Chief Scientist Dr Lasse Rabenstein to lead teams through ice drift and thickness research related to climate change. The whole journey has been uploaded over the last few weeks on their website and History Hit’s YouTube channel. They finally found the ship, four miles from its last recorded location.

The original expedition led by Shackleton was an attempt at a land crossing of Antarctica. However, the ship never reached land, as it became trapped in the Weddell Sea and slowly crushed by the sea ice. All the crew managed to evacuate before the ship sank and was never seen again.

The ship first became stuck in January 1915, and initially, Shackleton had hoped that when the sea ice thawed they would be able to navigate her to land. The ship became the crew’s winter station where they took refuge until Antarctic spring in September. However, the thawing ice damaged the ship and the crew were forced to abandon her to sink below the floes and camp out on the ice itself. It took 18 months in total and several death-defying transits in open top lifeboats to get help and rescue all the crew, but everybody survived.

The centre point of the expedition, the ship, remained simply some coordinates in the captain’s log.

“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance.  This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.  You can even see “Endurance” arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.  This is a milestone in polar history.”

Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration on the expedition

The ship now is still incredibly well preserved, the wood intact and the lettering pristine, the last piece of that lasting story of… well… endurance.

To see more of the Endurance, the BFI has released historical footage taken of the sinking of the ship during the original expedition, and the History Hit soundbites on the Endurance22 here and here.

circa JANUARY 1915, The wrecked ship of the Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, SS Endurance, stuck in the ice in the Weddell Sea, circa January 1915. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

Sofia Hurst is the Deputy News Editor for I,Science and is studying an MSc in Science Communications at Imperial College London