Ushuaia - Fin del Mundo

16 Feb 2011

54°48S 68°18W

Ushuaia is the End of the World. The plane comes in over the Beagle Channel which divides Argentina and Chile. It descends along the peaks of the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, dropping towards the water. Ushuaia is a horseshoe around the bay that forms the end of the channel. 

Ushuaia and the bay at the end of the Beagle Channel    The place used to be a penal colony. 

I’m finally here, nearly 48 hours after leaving home. The 50 students and two dozen or so staff are busy getting to know each other, exploring this thriving town of 64,000 that provides services to the active tourism industry that is one of the mainstays of the local economy. 

In the evening there are briefings – a hike tomorrow up into the mountains, preparations for boarding the ship in the late afternoon. Lectures on oceanography, glaciology and an amusing “Jeopardy” game on the Antarctic Treaty System that included points awarded for guessing the national foods of the seven countries that originally laid claims to the continent.

And then there is the seasickness briefing. We are warned that the ship will enter the Drake Passage. One of the roughest stretches of water on the planet, it separates the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego from the Antarctic Peninsula. Millions of years ago the two were joined. Continental drift tore them apart and the Antarctic Current, which flows around the continent, carved a deep canyon, four or five kilometres deep in places. 

“Antarctic currents are the strongest in the world,” says Eric Galbraith, assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “They are what makes Antarctica what it is.” They keep in the cold and until recently “kept the people away.”

We have a little discussion about human physiology and what happens when your brain and your eyes become uncoordinated in rough seas. It’s not pleasant but it’s part of the experience. Two days through the passage and we will be in quieter (we hope) waters on the other side. It’s 1200 kilometres from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula. We’ll see if the go through the “Drake Lake” or the “Drake Shake.”

Profile through the Drake's Passage. Graphic courtesy of Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany.



Richard Crump - 19 Feb 2011
have a great adventure, I will be following your voyage!
Leslie Harroun - 19 Feb 2011
HI John,

I'm so envious of your trip, and I'm so glad that you're writing this blog so I can live variously through you. I just posted it on Facebook too, so maybe you'll have additional readers.

Keep the blogs coming! You should ask some of the students to write "guest blogs." It would be great to see the Frozen South from a young person's point of view too.

Stay safe,
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