Southern Ocean and Drake Passage

Dec 17, 2017 - National Geographic Orion

Early in the morning, between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., we sailed northward through the 60th south parallel line of latitude, thus officially departing Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.  Most of us didn’t feel a change, though, as we were sound asleep with a comfy ride through the southern Drake Passage.  However, we didn’t really depart the southern ecosystem until 8:00 a.m., when the sea surface temperature started rapidly climbing above 0o Celsius as we passed over the Antarctic Convergence.  These cold Antarctic waters dive under the more temperate South Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans, and continues to spread northward at intermediate depths, influencing the ocean ecosystems in those regions. Unfortunately, the calm conditions of morning weren’t to last as the winds were starting to rise, foreboding rougher weather ahead.  On the good side, though, we picked up a few more avian ship followers, including one of our old friends from earlier in the voyage, the black browed Albatross.  In Coleridge’s epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the albatross is seen as both a harbinger of good and ill, but can be seen primarily as an agent of profound change in the lives of those who see them.

It was a day for more wisdom from the expedition photo team, starting with Nick Cobbing telling us about his arctic experiences and the vessels which were such an integral part of those voyages, illustrated by his stunning photographs.  Nick and Ian continued with their commentary on submitted guest photos, primarily filled with statements such as: “oh, I really like that one,” “lovely composition,” “wow, that one captures the moment perfectly.” We’ve all learned something from their advice.  Tom Ritchie, naturalist extraordinaire, gave his own unique take on the making of good photographs, highlighting the difficulties of capturing just the perfect image of a fulmar.

As the evening progressed, so did the winds and waves increase, giving us just a small taste of what the Drake can hold for passing ships.  As low pressure systems make their way eastward between 55 and 65 degrees south latitude, the northern edge of storms (spinning clockwise in the southern hemisphere) get concentrated as they bump along the southwestern tip of South America.  The captain and ship’s crew have expertly plotted and steered our course in order to avoid the worst of this storm system, such that we will be in the lee of the southernmost islands before the worst hits.

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About the Author

Robert Edwards


Growing up in the Appalachian foothills of the Garden State, Rob instinctively knew it made a lot more sense to head over the hill into the fields, forests, lakes, and streams behind his house, rather than down the road to the shopping mall in front of it. The natural world piqued the inherent curiosity in all of us and set his life course based on these questions: how does the world work, and how do we as humans fit into it?  

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