Comparing sea ice today to Shackleton’s Ill Fated Voyage – 100 years ago this month

By Paul Homewood



100 years ago last week, Ernest Shackleton was preparing to depart from South Georgia with the Endurance on the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

As is well known, he ended up trapped in pack ice the following January in the Weddell Sea, only a few miles from the coast. What followed was one of the most inspiring stories of bravery, heroism and suffering that could be imagined.


What is less well known, however, is that for over a month or more, the Endurance had battled for hundreds of miles through pack ice, to get to its point of no return.

Shackleton’s own book “South – the story of Shackleton’s last expedition, 1914-1917” contains much detail and insight into this early part of the expedition. Below is a lengthy extract from Chapter 1. You can skim over if you want, but it is worth the read.


I had decided to leave South Georgia about December 5, and in the intervals of final preparation scanned again the plans for the voyage to winter quarters. What welcome was the Weddell Sea preparing for us? The whaling captains at South Georgia were generously ready to share with me their knowledge of the waters in which they pursued their trade, and, while confirming earlier information as to the extreme severity of the ice conditions in this sector of the Antarctic, they were able to give advice that was worth attention.

It will be convenient to state here briefly some of the considerations that weighed with me at that time and in the weeks that followed. I knew that the ice had come far north that season and, after listening to the suggestions of the whaling captains, had decided to steer to the South Sandwich Group, round Ultima Thule, and work as far to the eastward as the fifteenth meridian west longitude before pushing south. The whalers emphasized the difficulty of getting through the ice in the neighbourhood of the South Sandwich Group. They told me they had often seen the floes come right up to the group in the summer-time, and they thought the Expedition would have to push through heavy pack in order to reach the Weddell Sea.

During December 6 the ‘Endurance’ made good progress on a southeasterly course. The northerly breeze had freshened during the night and had brought up a high following sea. The weather was hazy, and we passed two bergs, several growlers, and numerous lumps of ice. Staff and crew were settling down to the routine. Bird life was plentiful, and we noticed Cape pigeons, whale-birds, terns, mollymauks, nellies, sooty, and wandering albatrosses in the neighbourhood of the ship. The course was laid for the passage between Sanders Island and Candlemas Volcano. December 7 brought the first check. At six o’clock that morning the sea, which had been green in colour all the previous day, changed suddenly to a deep indigo. The ship was behaving well in a rough sea, and some members of the scientific staff were transferring to the bunkers the coal we had stowed on deck. Sanders Island and Candlemas were sighted early in the afternoon, and the ‘Endurance’ passed between them at 6 p.m. Worsley’s observations indicated that Sanders Island was, roughly, three miles east and five miles north of the charted position. Large numbers of bergs, mostly tabular in form, lay to the west of the islands, and we noticed that many of them were yellow with diatoms. One berg had large patches of red-brown soil down its sides. The presence of so many bergs was ominous, and immediately after passing between the islands we encountered stream-ice. All sail was taken in and we proceeded slowly under steam. Two hours later, fifteen miles north-east of Sanders Island, the ‘Endurance’ was confronted by a belt of heavy pack-ice, half a mile broad and extending north and south. There was clear water beyond, but the heavy southwesterly swell made the pack impenetrable in our neighbourhood. This was disconcerting. The noon latitude had been 57° 26´ S., and I had not expected to find pack-ice nearly so far north, though the whalers had reported pack-ice right up to South Thule.

The situation became dangerous that night. We pushed into the pack in the hope of reaching open water beyond, and found ourselves after dark in a pool which was growing smaller and smaller. The ice was grinding around the ship in the heavy swell, and I watched with some anxiety for any indication of a change of wind to the east, since a breeze from that quarter would have driven us towards the land. Worsley and I were on deck all night, dodging the pack. At 3 a.m. we ran south, taking advantage of some openings that had appeared, but met heavy rafted packice, evidently old; some of it had been subjected to severe pressure. Then we steamed north-west and saw open water to the north-east. I put the ‘Endurance’s’ head for the opening, and, steaming at full speed, we got clear. Then we went east in the hope of getting better ice, and five hours later, after some dodging, we rounded the pack and were able to set sail once more. This initial tussle with the pack had been exciting at times. Pieces of ice and bergs of all sizes were heaving and jostling against each other in the heavy south-westerly swell. In spite of all our care the ‘Endurance’ struck large lumps stem on, but the engines were stopped in time and no harm was done. The scene and sounds throughout the day were very fine. The swell was dashing against the sides of huge bergs and leaping right to the top of their icy cliffs. Sanders Island lay to the south, with a few rocky faces peering through the misty, swirling clouds that swathed it most of the time, the booming of the sea running into ice-caverns, the swishing break of the swell on the loose pack, and the graceful bowing and undulating of the inner pack to the steeply rolling swell, which here was robbed of its break by the masses of ice to windward.

We skirted the northern edge of the pack in clear weather with a light south-westerly breeze and an overcast sky. The bergs were numerous. During the morning of December 9 an easterly breeze brought hazy weather with snow, and at 4.30 p.m. we encountered the edge of pack-ice in lat. 58° 27´ S., long. 22° 08´ W. It was one-year-old ice interspersed with older pack, all heavily snow-covered and lying westsouth-west to east-north-east. We entered the pack at 5 p.m., but could not make progress, and cleared it again at 7.40 p.m. Then we steered east-north-east and spent the rest of the night rounding the pack. During the day we had seen adelie and ringed penguins, also several humpback and finner whales. An ice-blink to the westward indicated the presence of pack in that direction. After rounding the pack we steered S. 40° E., and at noon on the 10th had reached lat. 58° 28´ S., long. 20° 28´ W. Observations showed the compass variation to be 1½° less than the chart recorded. I kept the ‘Endurance’ on the course till midnight, when we entered loose open ice about ninety miles south-east of our noon position. This ice proved to fringe the pack, and progress became slow. There was a long easterly swell with a light northerly breeze, and the weather was clear and fine. Numerous bergs lay outside the pack.

The ‘Endurance’ steamed through loose open ice till 8 a.m. on the 11th, when we entered the pack in lat. 59° 46´ S., long. 18° 22´ W. We could have gone farther east, but the pack extended far in that direction, and an effort to circle it might have involved a lot of northing. I did not wish to lose the benefit of the original southing.

On the morning of December 12 we were working through loose pack which later became thick in places. The sky was overcast and light snow was falling. I had all square sail set at 7 a.m. in order to take advantage of the northerly breeze, but it had to come in again five hours later when the wind hauled round to the west. The noon position was lat. 60° 26´ S., long. 17° 58´ W., and the run for the twenty-four hours had been only 33 miles. The ice was still badly congested, and we were pushing through narrow leads and occasional openings with the floes often close abeam on either side.

We found several good leads to the south in the evening, and continued to work southward throughout the night and the following day. The pack extended in all directions as far as the eye could reach. The noon observation showed the run for the twenty-four hours to be 54 miles, a satisfactory result under the conditions.

The conditions became harder on December 14. There was a misty haze, and occasional falls of snow. A few bergs were in sight. The pack was denser than it had been on the previous days. Older ice was intermingled with the young ice, and our progress became slower. The propeller received several blows in the early morning, but no damage was done. A platform was rigged under the jib-boom in order that Hurley might secure some kinematograph pictures of the ship breaking through the ice. The young ice did not present difficulties to the ‘Endurance’, which was able to smash a way through, but the lumps of older ice were more formidable obstacles, and conning the ship was a task requiring close attention. The most careful navigation could not prevent an occasional bump against ice too thick to be broken or pushed aside. The southerly breeze strengthened to a moderate south-westerly gale during the afternoon, and at 8 p.m. we hove to, stem against a floe, it being impossible to proceed without serious risk of damage to rudder or propeller. I was interested to notice that, although we had been steaming through the pack for three days, the north-westerly swell still held with us. It added to the difficulties of navigation in the lanes, since the ice was constantly in movement.

The ‘Endurance’ remained against the floe for the next twenty-four hours, when the gale moderated. The pack extended to the horizon in all directions and was broken by innumerable narrow lanes. Many bergs were in sight, and they appeared to be travelling through the pack in a south-westerly direction under the current influence. Probably the pack itself was moving north-east with the gale. Clark put down a net in search of specimens, and at two fathoms it was carried south-west by the current and fouled the propeller. He lost the net, two leads, and a line. Ten bergs drove to the south through the pack during the twenty- four hours. The noon position was 61° 31´ S., long. 18° 12´ W. The gale had moderated at 8 p.m., and we made five miles to the south before midnight and then we stopped at the end of a long lead, waiting till the weather cleared. It was during this short run that the captain, with semaphore hard-a-port, shouted to the scientist at the wheel: “Why in Paradise don’t you port!” The answer came in indignant tones: “I am blowing my nose.”

The ‘Endurance’ made some progress on the following day. Long leads of open water ran towards the south-west, and the ship smashed at full speed through occasional areas of young ice till brought up with a heavy thud against a section of older floe. Worsley was out on the jibboom end for a few minutes while Wild was conning the ship, and he came back with a glowing account of a novel sensation. The boom was swinging high and low and from side to side, while the massive bows of the ship smashed through the ice, splitting it across, piling it mass on mass and then shouldering it aside. The air temperature was 37° Fahr., pleasantly warm, and the water temperature 29° Fahr. We continued to advance through fine long leads till 4 a.m. on December 17, when the ice became difficult again. Very large floes of sixmonths-old ice lay close together. Some of these floes presented a square mile of unbroken surface, and among them were patches of thin ice and several floes of heavy old ice. Many bergs were in sight, and the course became devious. The ship was blocked at one point by a wedge-shaped piece of floe, but we put the ice-anchor through it, towed it astern, and proceeded through the gap. Steering under these conditions required muscle as well as nerve. There was a clatter aft during the afternoon, and Hussey, who was at the wheel, explained that “The wheel spun round and threw me over the top of it!” The noon position was lat. 62° 13´ S., long. 18° 53´ W., and the run for the preceding twenty-four hours had been 32 miles in a south-westerly direction. We saw three blue whales during the day and one emperor penguin, a 58-lb. bird, which was added to the larder.

The morning of December 18 found the ‘Endurance’ proceeding amongst large floes with thin ice between them. The leads were few. There was a northerly breeze with occasional snow-flurries. We secured three crab-eater seals—two cows and a bull.  I had been prepared for evil conditions in the Weddell Sea, but had hoped that in December and January, at any rate, the pack would be loose, even if no open water was to be found. What we were actually encountering was fairly dense pack of a very obstinate character. Pack-ice might be described as a gigantic and interminable jigsaw-puzzle devised by nature. The parts of the puzzle in loose pack have floated slightly apart and become disarranged; at numerous places they have pressed together again; as the pack gets closer the congested areas grow larger and the parts are jammed harder till finally it becomes “close pack,” when the whole of the jigsaw-puzzle becomes jammed to such an extent that with care and labour it can be traversed in every direction on foot. Where the parts do not fit closely there is, of course, open water, which freezes over, in a few hours after giving off volumes of “frost-smoke.” In obedience to renewed pressure this young ice “rafts,” so forming double thicknesses of a toffee-like consistency. Again the opposing edges of heavy floes rear up in slow and almost silent conflict, till high “hedgerows” are formed round each part of the puzzle. At the junction of several floes chaotic areas of piled-up blocks and masses of ice are formed. Sometimes 5-ft. to 6-ft. piles of evenly shaped blocks of ice are seen so neatly laid that it seems impossible for them to be Nature’s work. Again, a winding canyon may be traversed between icy walls 6 ft. to 10 ft. high, or a dome may be formed that under renewed pressure bursts upward like a volcano. All the winter the drifting pack changes—grows by freezing, thickens by rafting, and corrugates by pressure. If, finally, in its drift it impinges on a coast, such as the western shore of the Weddell Sea, terrific pressure is set up and an inferno of ice-blocks, ridges, and hedgerows results, extending possibly for 150 or 200 miles off shore. Sections of pressure ice may drift away subsequently and become embedded in new ice.

I have given this brief explanation here in order that the reader may understand the nature of the ice through which we pushed our way for many hundreds of miles. [This is Shackleton’s comment by the way!]


Shackleton continues in the same vein until the ship becomes totally trapped on January 19th. His account is fascinating, giving a good description of life on board. The book appears to be fully available online here, and I would recommend reading it in more depth.

However, I thought it would be interesting to compare some of the locations where he reports pack ice with current conditions.

The first location he mentions is on Dec 9th.

During the morning of December 9 an easterly breeze brought hazy weather with snow, and at 4.30 p.m. we encountered the edge of pack-ice in lat. 58° 27´ S., long. 22° 08´ W.

As located on Google Earth:



The ring of islands to the west is the South Sandwich Islands, which include Sanders and Candlemas Islands, where Shackleton mentions the first contact with pack ice three days earlier.

We can plot the track over the next few days, till Dec 17th. Every day during that period, the Endurance appears to have been sailing through, or close to, pack ice.


We can compare these locations with the current extent of sea ice,provided by the University of Bremen using satellite data.


I have zoomed in on the area around the South Sandwich Islands. Inside my highly artistic(!) circle, can be seen the three most northerly of the eight main islands, and to the north west is the larger island of South Georgia.

This would put the current ice edge of the ice pretty much where Shackleton also found it in 1914. (The most southerly island visible on the map below is Candlemas, located at 57.05S/26.39W. Shackleton first met pack ice at 58.27S/22.08W).


Shackleton noted that the ice appeared to be further north that year, just as it is at the moment in that area, according to NSIDC.


Although we have been bombarded with theories of why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding, the most remarkable thing is just how little things have actually changed since the days of Shackleton.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
oebele bruinsma
December 11, 2014 8:43 am

This seems to tally with Eschenbach’s opinions how stable this whole thing is, the climate I mean. Amazing.

December 11, 2014 8:56 am

Thx.. interesting read and can only echo the stability comment….

December 11, 2014 9:08 am

I highly recommend reading Shackleton’s South, particularly the story of their journey after Endurance was crushed by the ice. As a sailor, there are few voyages more impressive than Shackleton’s from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island (Bligh’s voyage after the mutiny is one). For my money, Sir Ernest and the boys were some of the toughest men to ever walk the planet.

Jim Francisco
Reply to  Mark Bowlin
December 11, 2014 10:37 am

I saw the movie. I understand that this story didn’t get much press at the time because WW1 broke out about then.

Nigel S
Reply to  Mark Bowlin
December 11, 2014 10:56 am

Yes, Shackleton and Bligh, heroes both. Bligh’s grave, decorated with breadfruit, is at St Mary-at-Lambeth, now the Garden Museum. Well worth a visit when next in London (by the river adjoining Lambeth Palace).

Jay Hope
Reply to  Mark Bowlin
December 11, 2014 11:33 am

Didn’t a bunch of warmists in a ship get stuck there last year, and have to be rescued?

Ian H
Reply to  Jay Hope
December 11, 2014 3:19 pm

That was on the other side of the continent.

Reply to  Mark Bowlin
December 11, 2014 1:48 pm

From my book Ghosts of the Mountains (about other tough men — the soldiers at Monte Cassino), there is a (debatable) story that this was Shackleton’s advertisement for his march across Antarctica:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.” Reportedly, 5,000 men applied.

Reply to  Mark Bowlin
December 11, 2014 3:08 pm

The advertisement is still debatable, but it probably looked just like this:

Fred in Toronto
Reply to  Mark Bowlin
December 11, 2014 2:45 pm

Shackleton’s book is good, but the best retelling in my opinion is “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing. It is a gripping page turner to rival the best fiction. One of the few books I’ve ever read that blew me away. If it were fiction I’d have dismissed it as implausible. What a story.

December 11, 2014 9:15 am

What is also remarkable is that extent was lower in 1979. That extent today was caused by warm water blah, blah, blah.

December 11, 2014 9:49 am

great view of a back arc volcanic island chain too, with associated subduction zone. 100 years ago talk of plate tectonics also didn’t exist and would have been laughed out of the Royal Society.

Reply to  AleaJactaEst
December 11, 2014 12:58 pm

Yeah. But what makes that kind of feature? It looks like a circular mini-plate, ploughing its own furrow all the way from the Antarctic Peninsular, to where it is now.

December 11, 2014 10:02 am

Another very good book on Shackleton’s adventure is “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing.
One striking observation is the incredible variation and speed of change of the Antarctic – an area of sea could change from clear water to dense pack ice as far as the eye could see, and back again, in a matter of hours. Plus the phenomenon of compression and pressure ridges. But most impressive of course is the human story. (Haven’t read “South” yet – will try to soon.)

December 11, 2014 10:12 am

Paul, fascinating and elegant post. Similar (not as elegant) analysis of Larsen’s 1944 NWP shows some regular (stable) cyclicality to Arctic summer ice extents as well. Essay Northwest Passage in Blowing Smoke: essays on energy and climate.

December 11, 2014 10:19 am

Thank you.

December 11, 2014 10:20 am

“Shackleton continues in the same vein until the ship becomes totally trapped on January 19th.”

That’s it? That’s where this story ends with Shackleton totally trapped? The only clue being that he wrote a book about it so he must have survived. I had to go to Wiki to read the ending to this cliff-hanger.
We’ve had several long stories on WUWT lately that leave us hanging with no ending. The Japanese invasion of Australia was the previous one. Am I the only one who hates investing time into reading a long piece and being left with a cliff-hanger at the end? Why start a story if you’re not going to finish it?

Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 11:10 am

Wait for the next installment, “Hunger Games on South Georgia, Part I”.

Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 11:28 am

Well, it’s a pretty long story and quite fascinating. Any time you invest in following up on the tale will be well rewarded – I assure you.

Reply to  TomB
December 11, 2014 12:19 pm

I’m not asking for the entire “long story.” I just don’t like to be left hanging. We can assume they were not rescued by ice breakers, like the ship of fools, so how did Shackleton survive to write his book? A simple explanation about camping on the ice until it melted and then using lifeboats to make it to an island would have sufficed. There’s no reason to worry about “spoilers” when it comes to a 100-year-old story. And don’t assume that everyone already knows the ending. That’s all I’m asking for.

Bernd Palmer
Reply to  TomB
December 11, 2014 4:38 pm

@Louis: No they where not rescued by ice breakers. The drifted for several months on ice floes before they reached Elephant Island with the boats they had dragged along. You really have to read the whole story, it really is unbelievable what the have endured during more than half a year on ice and in ice water.

Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 11:44 am

Is there ever any actual finish to a story ?
Or does its repercussions just continue.
Nice post, Paul.

Janice Moore
Reply to  u.k.(us)
December 11, 2014 12:45 pm

Bwah, ha, ha, ha, haaaaaaaa!

Reply to  u.k.(us)
December 11, 2014 1:05 pm

Nice addition to the thread 🙂

Janice Moore
Reply to  u.k.(us)
December 11, 2014 1:11 pm

Thanks, James, same to you 😉

Janice Moore
Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 12:43 pm

Here ya go, Louis! #(:))
Documentary of the last voyage of the Endurance, Captain, Ernest Shackleton.
Part 1 (youtube video)

Part 2 (youtube video)

As others have already said, read the book Endurance. I can’t bear to read it again — it is THAT excruciating a story. The dogs…. the men…. . No WONDER Shackleton could not bear to speak of that time to his children (see documentary part 1 above). I do recommend reading it, however — once.

Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 1:36 pm

ugggh. google him, for god’s sake.

Chip Javert
Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 1:37 pm

Short answer: I’m assuming you’re in a minority of people who expect the entire book to be reproduced on WUWT.
If you want the WHOLE Shackelton story, buy the book (Homewood provides the name and web location). Maybe we can arrange to send someone along to turn the pages or read it to you.

Reply to  Chip Javert
December 12, 2014 4:10 pm

Your restraint was noticed.

Reply to  Louis
December 11, 2014 2:13 pm
The book is available on Project Gutenberg in several formats

Steve Jones
Reply to  Paul Homewood
December 12, 2014 2:36 pm

Haven’t read the story about Edward Shackleton but did read a very good one about his brother Ernest!
Only joking, merry Christmas.

Jim Francisco
December 11, 2014 10:23 am

The picture of the ship stuck in the ice kinda reminds me of our economy. I believe that the ship was slowly crushed by the ice.

Alan Robertson
December 11, 2014 10:27 am

Paging Chris Turney…

Reply to  Alan Robertson
December 11, 2014 10:44 am

That’s not fair, how could he have known there was going to be ice?

Reply to  Paul
December 11, 2014 3:01 pm

It takes ice to make banana milk shakes, no?

Reply to  Paul
December 11, 2014 3:33 pm

Don’t forget the peanuts! (Yuk!)

Old Ranga
Reply to  Paul
December 12, 2014 12:50 am

Or the custard on the rescue ship…. My one regret is not making a copy of that Guardian reporter’s YouTube video before he took it down.

December 11, 2014 10:28 am

From my point of view, I have to compare Scott, Royal Navy officer, and Shackleton, Merchant Seaman.
Both expeditions produced stories of bravery and endurance under extreme weather conditions.
One got his party home.

Reply to  Oldseadog
December 11, 2014 1:45 pm

I was going to make the same point. Shackleton was absolutely, utterly inspirational. Titus Oates’ mother publicly accused Robert Falcon Scott of murdering her son and, if ‘Scott and Amundsen; The Last Place on Earth’ is to be believed, she had a point. I am also ex-MN though…

Stuart jones
Reply to  Oldseadog
December 11, 2014 2:02 pm

Scott was ill prepared bad decision maker and a bad leader, he paid the price and became a hero, Shackleton was a superb organiser, an inspirational leader and determined to return his whole crew alive (which he did), the story of his open boat vayage across the southern ocean to South Gerogia AND then having to march across the mountain ridge to get help, near to starvation and totally exhausted, only to turn around immediatley to sail back and rescue the rest of his crew.
Scott stuffed up, took the wrong equipment and animals and then at the last minute decided to take an extra man along (with the extra weight of supplies) only to find Amundsen had been and gone. If Scott had survived he would have been a failure, he died and became a hero….

Malcolm Leafwind
December 11, 2014 10:40 am

Interesting. I have been reading Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage by Glyn Williams. It is readily apparent from reading it that the sea ice has varied dramatically from year-to-year for centuries.

Billy Liar
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 11, 2014 11:54 am

A number of them have had recent volcanic eruptions. Take a look at Montagu Island on Google Earth, you will see an eruption with a lava flow dating from 2003. Saunders Island has clouds of water vapour emanating from the crater in 2009 imagery. Candlemas Island has several craters and very obvious lava flows at its northern tip in 2009 imagery. Zavodovski Island is so hot it melts most of the snow off itself.

Doug Proctor
December 11, 2014 11:08 am

Interesting open water on top centre position of full Antarctica.
Subsea volcanism?

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Doug Proctor
December 11, 2014 11:31 am

My guess is upwelling warmer water and high albedo, open-water solar absorption feedback now that its 24 hrs sunlight down there.

Billy Liar
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
December 11, 2014 12:00 pm

It’s a regular feature otherwise it wouldn’t appear in the 1981-2010 median ice edge diagram. It is apparently associated with a shallower area of the Southern ocean known and the Maud Rise which is topped by the Maud Seamount.

Doug Proctor
Reply to  Billy Liar
December 11, 2014 1:56 pm

A seamount is an undersea volcano that “died” and has been sliced off at the top by wave or current action. Bermuda is one, and Barbados, capped by subsequent carbonate (organic) deposition.
The polynya is caused by a `Taylor`column of warmer water, stabilized by the geography of the seamount and general deeper currents. The warmer water comes from below.
Thank Google.

michael hart
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
December 11, 2014 3:06 pm

Thanks, Doug.
There’s a nice video demonstration of a Taylor column:

Not an easy thing to model.

Salvatore Del Prete
December 11, 2014 11:19 am

The climate is anything but stable over the long term although there are stable periods within the long term.

James at 48
December 11, 2014 11:24 am

It takes a special kind of crazy to undertake these sorts of voyages. Both back then and now.

Reply to  James at 48
December 11, 2014 4:49 pm

…. but not necessarily the same special kind of crazy.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
December 11, 2014 11:48 am

Although we have been bombarded with theories of why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding, the most remarkable thing is just how little things have actually changed since the days of Shackleton.

Except the people have gotten much more wimpy and whiny.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
December 11, 2014 11:56 am

And except if an icecube melts, it’s a tragedy and means the world will self-combust from CO2-heating any day now.

Richards in Vancouver
December 11, 2014 12:35 pm

I’ve just re-ordered a copy of Alan Gurney’s glorious “Below the Convergence”. The convergence is the line where straight sea-water becomes mixed with Antarctic melt-water. This book is an account of many voyages below that line, going way, way back.
I’ve taken to buying second-hand copies — under a buck, plus shipping — because I keep “losing” copies I’ve lent, which I don’t really mind. When I lend it, I know my chances of getting it back are poor if only because Gurney is a superb writer. We’ve all known, and “lent”, books like that. This is top of the heap in that category.
So better buy two. You’ll know someone you really want to “lend” it to. For under a buck plus shipping, you’ll gain much kudos and uncountable karma points. I feel them pouring in now as I type this!

Steve (Paris)
Reply to  Richards in Vancouver
December 12, 2014 5:21 am


December 11, 2014 12:37 pm

Thanks, Paul. This is an excellent article.
These sailors endured and persevered in conditions where no humans had been.
You write about the spirit of quest for knowledge that seems to have been forgotten lately, but for a few good men.

Robert W Turner
December 11, 2014 12:58 pm

I like how he describes the weather conditions with words like dangerous and evil . I think just a day in Antarctica in the “heat” of summer would be a good learning experience for the cultists since they are still confused that cold is bad and warm is good.

December 11, 2014 12:59 pm

Photos are great.comment

Janice Moore
December 11, 2014 1:07 pm

Well done, Paul Homewood (and how’s that new chair working out for you?)!
All that data (e.g., “Observations showed the compass variation to be 1½° less than the chart recorded. I kept the ‘Endurance’ on the course … .”) in the captain’s log (from which he almost certainly wrote his book)… . Worth reading for the pleasure of reading fact instead of simulation.
You make an EXCELLENT point with such quotes as the above, Mr. Homewood: when it really matters, when one’s life depends upon it, one seeks the highest quality data one can find. L1es are the luxury of those far from danger, safely counting their tax (and electric customer rate surcharge) -funded windmill/solar panel investment profits in warm dens heated by nuclear or coal-powered electric plants.

I have given this brief explanation here in order that the reader may understand the nature of the ice through which we pushed our way for many hundreds of miles.

Captain Ernest Shackleton

“… December 12 … the run for the twenty-four hours had been only 33 miles.”

Yes, captain, we copy; that sentence says it all.

December 11, 2014 1:09 pm

How can this be when the entire continent is melting…
Antarctica is losing 83 gigatons of ice per year, out of a total 29 million gigatons.
These careful measurements by scientists have resulted in an astounding .0003% per year loss of ice.
No doubt about it!
The Antarctic ice is 6500-7000 feet thick (depending on source).
The MELTDOWN OF .0003% of 6500 ft is .02 feet or about a quarter of an inch of DEVASTATING ICE LOSS across the entire continent.
This quarter of an inch loss has been accurately measured over 4.5 million square miles of the continent.
How do they do that?

Janice Moore
Reply to  glenncz
December 11, 2014 1:13 pm

lol (and great post).

Reply to  glenncz
December 11, 2014 2:55 pm

Well, they don’t. One way is to estimate what slides off the edges as calved icebergs (the Amundsen Embayment kerfuffle documented in essay Tippings Points in…). Partly what got ‘ship of fools’ Turney in trouble last year. Ignores interior accumulation. Another way is using GRACE gravimetric, or ICESAT (altimetric) satellite inferences. That way, NASA said gaining while NOAA said losing. Then NASA realized warming should mean losing, reversed its conclusions, and hastily produced the Amundsen Embayment kerfuffle.
Its too cold and remote to go out and survey Antarctica ice these days (except locally like drill core sites). The sort of mission Shackleton might have undertaken.
These days, NASA ‘scientists’ sit at JPL in Pasedena manipulating satellite feeds and computer models. No slogging thru ice, no eating penguins (God forbid!)…so little measured ice data on Antarctica.
For GRACE problems, see essay Pseudo Precision. For ICESAT problems, see essay Himalayan Glaciers. For NASA’s latest and greatest about face using Amundsen Embayment glacier creep, see essay Tipping Points. For sat mapped sea ice problems generally, see essay Northwest Passage. All in the new book with a foreward from Judith Curry.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 11, 2014 3:16 pm

Thanks for that excellent summary, Rud Istvan.

Sounds like a GREAT BOOK TO BUY!

What is the title?
Where can we buy it?
Editor (forward only by Judith Curry?)?

Reply to  glenncz
December 11, 2014 4:51 pm

in silico

Reply to  philincalifornia
December 11, 2014 4:52 pm

Oooops sorry, I thought I was replying to glenncz.

Janice Moore
Reply to  philincalifornia
December 11, 2014 5:13 pm

“Seeeeleeecoh! Seeeeelicoh! SEEEEEEEEEEEEEElicho!”
la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaaaaaa!
Thought I was on the opera trivia thread.
Pardon. 😉

Steve from Rockwood
December 11, 2014 1:27 pm

Interesting post Paul. Thanks.

December 11, 2014 1:49 pm

What’s that line about Shackelton and Scott? Captain Shackelton was the sort of leader you were prepared to die for…but never had to.
Reading, you feel the overwhelming guilt of departing on their ‘adventure’ as the Empire goes to war. Then Shackelton manages to command a rescue ship at the height of the carnage. Then, finally, when his crew returns, they almost immediately enlist; some ending their lives, not telling their grandchildren of their adventure, but rotting half frozen in muddy trenches on flander’s fields under the command of some other, more forgettable, captain.

Janice Moore
Reply to  berniel
December 11, 2014 1:55 pm

Thank you for reminding us, Berniel, of what heroes those crewmembers truly were.

December 11, 2014 2:02 pm

Not much has changed eh, but the solar cycles were weak and the AMO was relatively low in the early part of the 20th century. Today we have the solar cycles weakening and the AMO rolling over and down. More to come.

December 11, 2014 2:11 pm

Book is available here:

Janice Moore
Reply to  Burch
December 11, 2014 3:22 pm

The book Burch links to is: South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917.

December 11, 2014 2:50 pm

Reblogged this on Utopia – you are standing in it! and commented:
I am a great admirer of Ernest Shackleton – his seemingly unlimited determination and boundless courage

Doug Huffman
December 11, 2014 3:19 pm

Truly! Truly iron men sailing wooden ships. Bligh’s biography belies his condemnation. He was an iron hero.

December 11, 2014 3:24 pm

How did Shackleton manage the peanut butter and banana milkshake problem?

Janice Moore
Reply to  RoHa
December 11, 2014 3:36 pm

“Complaints about the food, eh boy? To take your mind of your troubles, do extra duty at the pumps.”

Janice Moore
December 11, 2014 3:37 pm

off your troubles…”

December 11, 2014 3:45 pm

Thank you Paul Homewood. A fascinating post.

December 11, 2014 3:47 pm

BTW…it is the morning of Dec the 12th here DownUnder.

jon sutton
December 11, 2014 4:25 pm

This is the boat Shakleton and crew sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia…….
……. not a replica, the actual boat.
Read the story, look at this picture and if you don’t get a lump in the throat, then maybe you’re not a human bean.

jon sutton
Reply to  jon sutton
December 11, 2014 4:28 pm

Bugger, can’t post the link……….. never mind, google ‘james caird’ images…………. she’s sat in the foyer of Dulwich College

Janice Moore
Reply to  Katherine
December 11, 2014 6:18 pm

Nicely done, Katherine. Thank you for that (sure wish I knew how to post a photo — I can only do videos using their http:… link).
And, thanks Jon Sutton, for bringing the James Caird to our attention. Moving, indeed.

jon sutton
Reply to  Katherine
December 12, 2014 6:03 am

Thank you

December 11, 2014 6:41 pm

I will add to the many superlatives concerning Shackleton and “South.”
“For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Sir Raymond Priestly, Antarctic Explorer and Geologist.

December 11, 2014 8:04 pm

An amazing adventure – accomplished with sextant, compass, and a book of astronomical tables. Fundamentals. The space race began w/ slide rules using three significant figures. Our fancy smarts have out run simple observations and wisdom.

December 11, 2014 8:04 pm

Or, and a watch.

December 11, 2014 11:10 pm

“Though some have gone there are enough left to rally round and form a nucleus for the next Expedition, when troublous times are over and scientific exploration can once more be legitimately undertaken.”
Are people like this still around?

December 12, 2014 1:40 am

There’s a new film in the making about the Shackleton expedition – “Ice”.
Out 2016 I think.

Thai Rogue
December 12, 2014 4:49 am

There are quite a few films/documentaries/TV mini-series out about this adventure. A few years ago, they re-did the whole adventure with an identical boat, identical clothing and identical food (the open boat journey and the crossing of South Georgia). Of course they were monitored intensely but only warned of impending weather conditions if deemed life-threatening. Of the 5 who tried, 4 were compromised and either retired or had to resort to modern survival gear. One guy did it as per Shackleton. That’s a good doco to watch too.

December 12, 2014 12:46 pm

Louis – You’ll find most WUWT site visitors & posters are quite intelligent, well-read, and broadly credentialed scientists, so I’m not surprised they might forget that not all know this amazing story. Glad follow-up guidance has been provided. Kudos for being open-minded enough to check out WUWT though. Continue to use your critical thinking intellect to develop & promote your own stance on “climate change” policy.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Tomazo
December 12, 2014 12:55 pm

Good for you, Tomazo.

Paul in Sweden
December 12, 2014 1:30 pm

South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917 (FULL Audiobook) – YouTube
Shackleton’s most famous expedition was planned to be an attempt to cross Antarctica from the Weddell Sea south of the Atlantic, to the Ross Sea south of the Pacific, by way of the Pole. It set out from London on 1 August 1914, and reached the Weddell Sea on January 10, 1915, where the pack ice closed in on the Endurance. The ship was broken by the ice on 27 October 1915. The 28 crew members managed to flee to Elephant Island, bringing three small boats with them. Shackleton and five other men managed to reach the southern coast of South Georgia in one of the small boats (in a real epic journey). Shackleton managed to rescue all of the stranded crew from Elephant Island without loss in the Chilean’s navy seagoing steam tug Yelcho, on August 30, 1916, in the middle of the Antarctic winter. (Summary from Wikipedia)As the last section of this project we include a short original recording by Ernest Shackleton about the expedition.

December 13, 2014 4:17 am

‘It will, without doubt, have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate, inexplicable at present to us, must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice, has been during the last two years greatly abated. This affords ample proof that new sources of warmth have been opened, and give us leave to hope that the Arctic Seas may at this time be more accessible than they have been for centuries past, and that discoveries may now be made in them, not only interesting to the advancement of science, but also to the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations.’
President of the Royal Society, London, to the Admiralty, 20th November, 1817, Minutes of Council, Volume 8. pp.149-153, Royal Society, London. 20th November, 1817.(from)

December 13, 2014 5:07 am

Uuummmmm — Sandwich Islands.

Anthony Farrell
December 13, 2014 9:24 pm

No reminiscence of this extraordinary expedition can be properly completed without reference to Shackletons valiant crew, especially the amazing strength and bravery of the mostly overlooked Thomas Crean. Crean was an Irish seaman who sailed on three of the four British Antarctic expeditions of the early 20th century and served both Scott and Shackleton. Together with the great New Zealand sailor and explorer Frank Worsley, Tom Crean and Ernest Shackleton achieved the unbelievable crossing of South Georgia in circumstances that defy credibility to those of us lucky enough to have ventured South. I thoroughly recommend Michael Smiths book ‘An Unsung Hero – Tom Crean – Antarctic Survivor’.

December 14, 2014 3:48 pm

It has been many years but I liked The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.
The reason this is so good is because it allows the story to be told in the men’s own words and explains how they were able to sail a jerry-rigged 22 foot life boat through impossible winter seas to reach South Georgia Island. The Norwegian Whalers all seasoned sailors who were wintered in on South Georgia, were duly impressed with such a feat.

December 15, 2014 7:39 am

“Although we have been bombarded with theories of why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding, the most remarkable thing is just how little things have actually changed since the days of Shackleton.”
However back in February 1823, in the depths of the LIA James Weddell reached 74.25 degrees S in open water in the Weddell sea, something that has never happened again. The “Polar Seesaw”?

%d bloggers like this: