An international expedition to Antarctica that wanted to find the sunken vessel of the famous British explorer Ernest Shackleton has had to turn around and return home. After two weeks studying the effect of global warming on one of the largest Antarctic glaciers, the expedition scientist had set course for the place where they hoped to find the Endurance, the three-masted brigantine schooner whose shipwreck in November 1915 put an end to the heroic age of the exploration of Antarctica. Shackleton and his crew managed to survive, but the ship sank about 3,000 meters into the icy waters of the Weddell Sea.
Scientists reached the site of the sinking earlier this week, after navigating hundreds of kilometers of icy sea aboard the powerful South African icebreaker S.A. Agulhas II. Upon arrival, the researchers submerged a robot whose mission was to draw a map of the sea floor of 20 square kilometers, and that would be the advance of a second autonomous submersible vehicle with which they intended to photograph the remains of the ship.
"Shackleton described the tomb of Endurance as 'the worst portion of the worst sea in the world'. The ice and what Shackleton called 'the infernal conditions of the Weddell Sea' have defeated our well-planned plans "
But the sea that more than a hundred years ago swallowed Endurance I was not going to make it that easy. The researchers' hopes faded as the weather and ice conditions worsened. After thirty hours monitoring the descent of the robot to the depths, the scientists lost their trail. Soon after, the S.A. Agulhas II He was trapped in the ice, forcing the leaders of the expedition to abandon their objective and return to Cape Town.
"We are deeply disappointed to see that after such a great effort and to overcome several setbacks, we could not find the Endurance"Says from the icebreaker John Shears, polar geographer and one of the leaders of the expedition.
According to Mensun Bound, maritime archaeologist and director of exploration tasks of the expedition, the decision to leave has been a blow to the team. "Shackleton described the tomb of Endurance as 'the worst portion of the worst sea in the world'. The ice and what Shackleton called 'the hellish conditions of the Weddell Sea' have defeated our well-planned plans. "
A few days before the failure, another of the researchers heading the expedition, Julian Dowdeswell, He explained to EL PAÍS that this was a unique opportunity to find the wreck. "There has not been another attempt of this magnitude nor with the experience that we have, and nobody has ever been so close to the place where the remains are believed to lie," said the director. Scott Polar Research Institute, a polar research center attached to the University of Cambridge.
The researchers believed that the low temperatures of the water, which prevent the life of numerous organisms that could have decomposed the wood of the ship, could have contributed to preserve the ship.
The Endurance It was one of the two ships of the Shackleton expedition, which aimed to cross Antarctica by land, the only Antarctic challenge to reach that could still bring it world fame, after the Norwegian Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911.
This was the third time that Shackleton ventured into the Antarctic continent. His plan was to send a main crew aboard the Endurance that would sail the Weddell Sea and disembark near Vahsel Bay, from where he would begin his crossing by land to cross the continent through the South Pole. A second vessel, the Aurora, would be heading towards the opposite end of Antarctica, to the McMurdo Strait, where the secondary crew would prepare material and supplies for the survival of the main crew led by Shackleton.
The plan failed when strong winds pushed the Endurance against the dangerous sharp ice blocks of the Weddell Sea, the same one that the Dowdeswell expedition now faces. Shackleton's crew could only hope that the direction of the wind took a turn and saved them from ruin, or that the ship, one of the strongest made of wood until then, could survive the persistent rubbing. After months adrift, at the mercy of the ice and the winds, the helmet of the Endurance it cracked and the ship ended up sinking, condemning Shackleton and the rest of the main crew to months of suffering and extreme conditions until finally they were rescued.
After thirty hours monitoring the descent of a robot to the depths, the scientists lost their trail
"The adventure of Endurance It has great historical relevance, in addition to a huge human interest, "says Dowdeswell, glacier dynamics specialist. The institute for which he works has a collection of objects from several British expeditions to the poles, including the original diaries of Shackleton and the sextant used by Frank Worsley, the captain of the crew of the Endurance. Researchers have used these files to calculate the exact point at which the ship should meet. The perspective of photographing the remains of Endurance At three thousand meters deep, the collection was somehow completed, says the scientist.
Dowdeswell now hopes that the global interest generated by the expedition will serve to spread the importance of the conservation of Antarctica. "Thanks to the scientific data collected during the expedition, we have deepened our knowledge of oceanography and Antarctic ecosystems, and our observations of glaciology and geology will play a fundamental role in our understanding of Antarctic ice and, above all, of the changes that are taking place, "he says.