Scientists aboard South Africa’s Agulhas II, a polar supply and research vessel searching for a century-old shipwreck in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica, say they’ve been forced to end the mission after weather and equipment setbacks.
The team reached the site of the Endurance, lost to the elements in 1915 while under the command of Sir Ernest Shackleton. But then the 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, ran into troubles that Shackleton would have recognized – and a few modern ones he wouldn’t.
“The conditions we are facing are challenging,” the team said on Wednesday. “There is an ice floe moving in from the West and air temperatures have dropped to below -14 degree centigrade. It gives us a sense of the harsh, unforgiving time that Shackleton and his men endured out here.”
That weather closed in and the sea ice conditions deteriorated, leading to the loss of AUV7, one of the state-of-the-art specialist submersible autonomous underwater vehicles used to try and find the wreck. “Despite round the clock efforts to recover AUV7, and with the risk of the Expedition vessel,” they said, “the Expedition leaders decided to abandon the current search for Endurance.”
Dr. John Shears, a polar scientist and expedition co-leader, said the scientists were disappointed that their quest for the Endurance – itself sinking after it was broken apart by the ice – was not to be. Yet Shears was pleased with the success of the expedition’s primary goal of scientific research at the Larsen C Ice Shelf.
The team of glaciologists, marine geologists, marine biologists and biogeochemists, oceanographers and marine archaeologists, now are returning to Cape Town.
Image: Weddell Sea Expedition 2019