What Happened To Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition Could Provide Clues To Us Today

The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust recently confirmed that the Endurance22 Expedition, which is aiming to locate, survey and film the wreck of Endurance, the lost ship of renowned polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, has departed on schedule from Cape Town, headed for the Weddell Sea in Antarctica.

The Expedition plans to be at sea for 35 days, but up to 45 days if required. 

The Expedition will be run from the SA Agulhas II, the South African icebreaking polar supply and research ship belonging to the South African Government and managed by the South African company African Marine Solutions (AMSOL). Dr John Shears, Polar geographer and explorer, leads the expedition and Mensun Bound, Falklands-born marine archaeologist, is Director of Exploration.

The wreck is protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty; the team will be using state of the art technology in the form of SAAB’s Sabertooth hybrid underwater search vehicles to locate, survey and film the wreck without touching or disturbing it. 

The technology combines the attributes of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), being able to follow a pre-programmed course with no physical link to the surface, and remote operating vehicles (ROVs), sending digital signals through a fibre optic cable to the surface in real time. On this expedition the Sabertooths will remain on their tether at all times, to prevent their loss under the ice. The expedition has the capability to deploy the Sabertooths from the vessel itself or from ice camps established on suitable ice floes using the two helicopters on board.

On the expedition website, endurance22.org, it is possible to track the course of SA Agulhas II, get the latest news on the expedition, and read social media posts from members of the team. 

Education Outreach:

Like Shackleton himself, the Trust regards it as important to communicate information about the expedition and the Antarctic environment to a global audience. Endurance22 aims to bring the story of Shackleton, his ship and the members of his team to new and younger audiences. The FMHT has partnered with video and content platform History Hit and digital content agency and media network Little Dot Studios, who will cover the events in real time and publish material on several digital channels and social media platforms, as well as having a film crew on board documenting the expedition for a premium long-form documentary. Short-form content will be distributed to millions of subscribers across History Hit TV, HistoryHit.com, and History Hit’s podcast network and social channels, together with Little Dot Studios’ network of owned and operated digital and social media accounts including Timeline World History, Spark and Real Stories. Renowned historian and presenter, Dan Snow, is on board to broadcast about the many facets of a historic expedition to Antarctica such as this one.

The Expedition also includes a representative of Reach the World, the US-based education organisation. RTW will be connecting young people in their classrooms directly with explorers, through live stream interviews and regular updates and material and currently has over 700 classrooms signed up.

Similarly, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is playing an important role in Endurance22; engaging pupils by producing free resources for classroom use. The resources will enable pupils to learn about changes in polar exploration and the different motivations for why people visit Antarctica, as well as this continent’s unique frozen environment.

Scientific Research:

Shackleton and other polar explorers made important contributions to our knowledge of the fragile environment of Antarctica. There is still much to learn about the continent and how human activity has an impact on it. The Trust wants to raise awareness of the value of exploration, of increasing our environmental awareness and of scientific study. 

Taking part in the expedition will be scientists from a variety of world leading research and educational institutions. 

Representatives from the South African Weather Service will be deploying weather balloons, ocean floats and ice drift buoys. In additional, German firm Drift & Noise will be carrying out important sea ice research, while Germany’s Alfred-Wegener-Institute will be both studying sea ice and learning about the operation of the deep-sea submersibles that will conduct the undersea search. A team from the German Space Agency (DLR) will also be using high resolution satellite imagery to map the sea ice from space. In addition, Aalto University in Finland in partnership with South Africa’sStellenbosch University will conduct a series of important engineering experiments into the impact of the sea ice thickness and strength on the hull and engines of the SA Agulhas II.

Donald Lamont, Chairman of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, said, “This Expedition is made up of polar explorers, scientists, educators and film-makers of the very highest calibre and we very much look forward to the next few weeks, which will bring to life one of great stories of polar exploration as the team document their findings.”

“The preparation has been comprehensive, although not without its challenge, including COVID. The team has remained nimble and determined and this has brought us to where we are today; leaving Cape Town with the plan to locate and survey Endurance, as well as simultaneously carry out scientific studies which we believe will play a considerable role in furthering our understanding of ice conditions and climate change. The Trust is privileged to be enabled to organise the Expedition and hopes that Endurance22 will inspire and educate many, whether young or not so young.”