Anyone who has ever crossed the sea to Antarctica will tell you that the journey is extremely arduous. High winds, rough seas, and frigid temperatures make the trip particularly unpleasant, so much so that ship residents often find themselves having to attach their cups to their tables with Velcro, and risk being thrown out of their beds at night. Many scientists take the journey to the Antarctic Peninsula from the southern tip of Argentina to study the climate of Antarctica annually, usually during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. The sea between the two land masses is called Drake’s Passage and is the sea most traveled for people hoping to arrive in the Antarctic.
Why are the seas so rough in Drake’s Passage? The answer comes from the fact that the winds around Antarctica are completely unimpeded by land. Frequently, major wind patterns (such as the trade winds) travel in circular, horizontal patterns around the world, and are slowed down by friction as they trek over land. This is not usually the case for the climatological wind field regimes which move around the Antarctic. Since the winds encounter no land as they travel around the continent; they encounter much less friction than other places around the world. This is also true for the currents through the area, they can continue speeding around Antarctica without slamming into land. These factors, along with the climatological colder temperatures of the region, make the passage quite difficult to cross.
Is there an easier way to get to Antarctica? Surprisingly, yes, but most scientists won’t be able to use it. There are several airports, typically owned by countries, in different research stations around the continent used by researchers for their respective countries. However, most travelers will end up having to utilize Drake’s Passage to get to Antarctica, especially those that aren’t scientists because the airports are exclusive to the entities that own them.
Once scientists finally arrive to the continent, they next must deal with the hardships of the Antarctic itself. The land is extremely windy, especially near the coast. Katabatic winds (winds that happen as air sinks from high to low elevations) pummel the edges of Antarctica while other winds whip across the cold ice caps, uninterrupted by vegetation. Thankfully, travelers to this cold land have a little respite in the buildings at research stations along the coast. Then, once Winter comes around, most researchers return to their home countries, while in certain stations a few brave researchers remain behind.
While the trip through the passage may be difficult, it’s an important passage used by scientists for essential research. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more methods for these scientists to use to get to Antarctica, since it will be increasingly important to continue conducting climate research in this region of the world.
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© 2019 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow