The ship that found Shackleton’s ship ENDURANCE … continues its vital role in climate science research


© Raquel Flynn

It was difficult to believe that the Endurance might ever be found. The icy Weddell Sea is inhospitable and the wreck lay in more than 3000 metres of water. But thanks to a South African vessel, the SA Agulhas II, Endurance was found in March 2022. It was the second time the polar icebreaker reached the coordinates that Endurance’s Captain Frank Worsley recorded as the ship went down. The first was in 2019; the ship was not located on that occasion.

The tale of the Endurance is fascinating. But so is the story of the SA Agulhas II. Because of this ship, South Africa is becoming a leader in aspects of Antarctic science. For example, it is highly unusual to make in situ measurements of the physics, chemistry, and biology of the open Southern Ocean and its sea ice in winter because of the darkness, inhospitable weather conditions and high concentrations of sea ice.

Yet, since 2012, the SA Agulhas II has undertaken at least five wintertime voyages between Cape Town and the Antarctic sea ice, a journey of nearly 3,000 kilometres. These expeditions have yielded data that are essential to understanding the changing Southern Ocean, and to validate numerical models developed to predict future climate. My research group, comprising mainly postgraduate students, has collected samples on numerous cruises aboard the SA Agulhas II that, following their measurement in the Marine Biogeochemistry Lab at the University of Cape Town, are improving our understanding of Southern Ocean nutrient and carbon cycling.

Well done … and I might also add as a training facility for hundreds of students of climate science as part of a range of scientific disciplines. Please read the whole article. Fascinating stuff.

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