This question is based on physical concepts regarding presssure waves and crystallography, but I thought it might be helpful to include a brief historical context first.

From Wikipedia: Loss of Polar Expedition Vessel Endurance

Endurance departed from South Georgia for the Weddell Sea on 5 December (1914),....conditions gradually grew worse until, on 19 January 1915, Endurance became frozen fast in an ice floe.

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The crew tried to cut through the sea ice, using saws and pickaxes, but failed to make inroads into the ice, which eventually crushed the ship.

My questions are:

  1. Would high explosives, located at some distance from the ship, been of any use in creating cracks in the sea ice? Unfortunately I know next to nothing about crystallography, in particular the question : does the slow freezing of salt water into ice create planes within the ice mass which may have made the H.E. more efficient at breaking up the ice?

  2. Assuming (arbitrarily), that the sea ice was 2 metres thick, would this have been enough to help create a "downwards" cone shaped area of high pressure, thus reducing to a minimum any possible damage to the Endurance, especially if was positioned bow on to the site of the explosion(s), thereby minimising the surface area of the ship exposed to the blast?

From the picture above, you can see that the movement of the ice has forced what was orginally flat horizontal ice into blocks at various angles to it's orginal location, but I would (again somewhat arbitrarily) assume that this ice was effectively not a hindrance to the passage of the ship and rather I would like to concentrate on the possible effect on the sea level pack ice of H.E.

  • $\begingroup$ Using explosives to navigate through ice would be very expensive , but otherwise with sufficient distance from the ship, you could likely free the ship, move forward, and explode another detonation and continue that way. If it were 2 meters thick, I don't think even an ice breaker ship could make it through. $\endgroup$ – Neil Apr 4 '16 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Neil, I failed to make the distance of the explosive site from the ship clear in my question, basically far away too do some damage, but not too close either. $\endgroup$ – user108787 Apr 4 '16 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ You could use c4 explosions if you wanted. What's important is that they are detonated well before the ship arrives. $\endgroup$ – Neil Apr 4 '16 at 14:38

If they could not free it from the ice by hacking with saws, ice and ship had become one. An explosive charge would have as high a probability of breaking the ship as of breaking the ice. ( assuming it was a wooden boat).

Now there are icebreaking ships to free trapped ships. It is not simple, though brute power is used to break the ice.


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