Scientists aboard South Africa’s Agulhas II, a polar supply and research vessel, say they’ve reached the site of the Endurance, an expedition vessel led by Sir Ernest Shackleton that shipwrecked and sank in the Weddell Sea more than 100 years ago –and that no one has visited since.
The Agulhas II, owned by the Department of Environmental Affairs and led by Captain Knowledge Bengu, successfully cut through the heavy Antarctic ice pack to the site on Sunday. Aboard the ship is the team of Weddell Sea Expedition 2019, a group of scientists from South Africa, the UK and New Zealand working with the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.
Their mission has been made all the more urgent because of climate change and ice conditions in the Antarctic.
“Shackleton, it was the case that he wanted to get to the land so he could cross Antarctica and be the first person to cross it,” said Dr. John Shears, a polar scientist and expedition co-leader, in a video interview with Britain’s Royal Geographic Society. “The scientific importance really has only been realized in the last 15 to 20 years. So on our expedition we have a multidisciplinary team.”
That team includes glaciologists, marine geologists, marine biologists and biogeochemists, oceanographers and marine archaeologists, who will use autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to survey the sea floor down to beyond 3,000 meters. They’re joined by a technical crew too.
“We need a range of technicians to be able to operate this highly technical equipment,” Shears added.
The crew celebrated the first stage of success with a nod to the diversity of a team that includes Bengu, South Africa’s first licensed black ice pilot trained for some of the world’s most challenging conditions.
“We must thank the South African crew members of the Agulhas II for getting us so far into this harsh terrain,” the expedition team said. “It is not easy to operate in. We are also proud that today we have some of the first women – African and European alike – to reach here. Thanks for your support!”