The search for the Endurance –– the long-list ship used by Ernest Shackleton in the Antarctic –– had been cancelled. A team of researchers aboard an icebreaker had spent much of last week looking for the missing vessel, which had sunk in the Weddell Sea more than 100 years ago. But the loss of an underwater drone, and quickly deteriorating weather conditions, forced the group to call off their efforts and begin the long journey home.
The Weddell Sea Expedition 2019 traveled to the Antarctic to study the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean just off shore and to examine the impact of climate change on the ice shelves located there. But one of the team’s bonus missions was to search for Shackleton’s missing ship, which sunk back in 1915 as part of the explorer’s ill-fated attempt to traverse the frozen continent. Early last week we reported that the S.A. Agulhas II had arrived at the last known location of the Endurance and that the search was underway, with fans of the Shackleton story eagerly awaiting news –– and possibly photos and video –– of the shipwreck.
Early on things seemed to being well with the research crew deploying a remote controlled submarine to explore the area where the Endurance had sunk. That underwater drone spent more than 30 hours under the water, dropping to a depth of more than 3000 meters (9842 feet) as it searched for the ship. But just as the team was preparing to retrieve their robot submersible they lost contact with the sub, which was soon lost to the depths alongside the prize it had come to find.
Apparently, the sub had located the Endurance and managed to capture photos of Shackleton’s ship. Unfortunately, since it didn’t return to the surface, those images are now lost along with the drone itself. Exactly what happened to the high-tech underwater drone remains a mystery, as it had already cleared the ice and the sea floor in the Weddell Sea is reportedly extremely flat and without obstacles.
For now, it seems the Southern Ocean will hold on to its mysteries, although the loss of the drone is a sharp reminder that even in the 21st century this is still a difficult place to explore. I wouldn’t be surprised if another expedition goes in search of the Endurance again in the near future, but the legendary ship will remain hidden for the foreseeable future.
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