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The Weddell Sea

Location: Onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton, Weddell Sea

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RRS Ernest Shackleton breaking through pack ice in the Weddell sea on the way to Halley Research Station

The Weddell Sea is named after James Weddell, Master, RN, who commanded the sailing brig Jane of Greenock on three privately organised voyages to the Antarctic at a time when he was on naval half-pay, following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Weddell was alone among the early British sealers in leaving a record of his explorations in book form, published in 1825.

The voyage from Signy to Halley is very dependent on the conditions of the sea ice. In some years, the journey can be relatively straightforward. Other times however it can take much longer and much greater distances are covered as the ship tries to pick its way through the ice. RRSErnest Shackleton is an ice strengthened vessel but in places the ice can be too thick even for this ship to get through. If this happens it’s either a case of “puddle hopping” – moving between areas of open water, or waiting for a lead to open in the pack.

The face of a tabular iceberg about 80 feet high showing accumulation of annual snow strata.

As you approach the ice shelf, you will be privileged to see some spectacular views like these ice cliffs. The Master of the ship will have been in contact with the Base Commander at Halley, to agree the best place to moor the ship. Although dependent on the ice conditions, Halley is usually around 15 km away from where the ship can moor at the edge of the ice shelf. The route from the ship to Halley has to be marked with flags and all incoming supplies and outgoing waste has to be dragged on sledges, using Sno-cats between Halley and the ship.

Next stop: Halley Research Station