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Shackleton shipwreck: 'It's amazing'

March 9, 2022

Finding Shackleton's ship Endurance has made history. Expedition team member Stefanie Arndt says it's also an achievement of international collaboration.

Image of the shipwreck Endurance
The Endurance shipwreck looks as though it was "parked down there just the other day"

DW: How significant is it that you've found the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance — how does it help science today?

Stefanie Arndt: It is one of the biggest achievements in polar history and polar science that we've managed to find the shipwreck, given that it's been down there in the Weddell Sea for more than 100 years.

Shackleton and his men have been role models for generations of scientists since then. So it's amazing that we have found it. And it's just down there as though it was "parked" there the other day. It's upright and you can read [the ship's name] "Endurance". You can see how everything is still on it. It's amazing to see those images.

From your perspective as a sea ice physicist, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in the Antarctic — and the challenges for finding the wreck?

The biggest challenge was the sea ice itself. We are operating in an area that is usually covered with sea ice over the whole year. There was a previous attempt to find the wreck in 2019 but they failed because of the ice conditions.

There were fears [with our expedition] that the ice may again be a limiting factor. But this year we had a low concentration of sea ice in the summer in the Weddell Sea and that was good for us. We could operate easily in the sea ice area and that was part of our big success in the end.

The Endurance22 Expedition surrounded by sea ice in the Antarctic
Dr. Stefanie Arndt has been working with a 40+ member team on Endurance22 Expedition surrounded by sea iceImage: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trus/PA Media/dpa/picture alliance

"Endurance22 Expedition" is such a large international collaboration. What does it mean to you and science to be part of such a team?

Well, that's one of the biggest messages that we can now bring back home: This success was possible because a big international and interdisciplinary team has been working for years to prepare for it.

It's been a big group effort and it's amazing to see how everyone got involved and contributed their expertise from their respective fields.

So, after the fact that we have found the wreck, this is really the next big message that we would like to send out: It is possible — even in these times [in which we're living] — it was possible for us to accomplish this with such a great team here on board [our expedition ship].

Finally, we're all curious to know what it looks down there at the wreck. And we're hearing that the marine life is very special and unique to the area. What's it like seeing the marine life?

Unfortunately, I'm not an expert in marine life. But a good colleague of mine, Huw Griffiths, is analyzing the marine life that's on the wreck and I've learnt from his posts that what we're seeing are sponges and sea stars ... It's a whole variety of life down there.

And it's impressive to see how this ship wreck has become a new home for other species of our world. It's just amazing to see how this story, this history, continues to live on down there.  

Dr. Stefanie Arndt is a Sea Ice Physicist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a member of the  Endurance22 Expedition to find Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship "Endurance" which was crushed by the ice and sank in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica in 1915. Arndt sent audio clips via a messaging app from the expedition in response to our written questions. The transcript has been edited accordingly.

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany Senior editor fascinated by space, AI, the mind, how science touches people, European perspectives