Waiting to pick out spot. That is what we are doing with the weather. As I am sure you have gathered by now from the blog, getting to Antarctica is no small feat. To get there we need to cross the Southern Ocean. Yes, there are 5 oceans on the planet. Although most get taught that there are 4 oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic), the circulation of Antarctic Circumpolar Current makes the waters around the Antarctic quite distinct. The transit to the Antarctic will take some time. We steam about 10 mph, that is nautical miles per hour (a nautical mile is 1.15 miles – or one degree of latitude). It will take us at least 7 days to get to the continent.
Anyway, the Southern Ocean is renowned for rough weather, and we have to cross it to get to Antarctica. Several of us on the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer have done this several times, but there are several first timers crossing the Southern Ocean (or even being on a boat in the middle of the ocean). Even for the seasoned veterans, the crossing can be a source of anxiety and trepidation – because you never know what you are going to get. Andy Mahon and I were commenting that we have been very lucky with the last several crossings. Something like our last 4-5 crossings of the Drake Passage, the region between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, have been met with calm seas. That is unlikely to happen this time.
The weather in this region of the planet is fascinating. Storms can come up very quick and be very intense. They can take on very clear cyclonic patterns and easily reach hurricane intensity – we just do not call them hurricanes because of where they occur on the planet. So back to waiting and picking our spot. We had to hang out offshore of New Zealand for a day waiting for a storm to pass before we could head south. If we had left when we originally planned, we would have encountered 25-30ft (8-9 m) seas. That is just not a fun ride, but more importantly safety comes in to play.
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Cyclone. Photo credit: KRIS VAN STEENBERGEN/TWITTER.