I arrived in Chile just under two weeks ago, just as the days in Eugene were getting hot and sunny—and I, delicate flower that I am (thanks Katie), was starting to suffer. By a strange twist of fate my parents are here with me, since my dad is finishing up a fellowship that allowed him to work at a University in Valparaiso, Chile for 5 months. That our paths intersected like this is a special treat for us all, since this is probably the only time my parents will see me off on an adventure to the Antarctic. I joined them and my sister (on vacation) in Valparaiso and spent a few days hanging around their apartment (recovering from my first year of graduate school) and exploring the area. Lucky for me, Valparaiso has approximately the same climate as San Francisco, and I was relieved to be greeted by fog, a little rain, and cool temperatures of the austral winter. Valparaiso seems to be a pretty amazing place, and there’s a lot to write about it, but my intent is to write mostly about our expedition to the Antarctic.
From Valparaiso we went inland to Santiago and took a flight down to the “most austral city in the world”: Punta Arenas, Chile-about latitude 53°S. The flight over southern Chile was breathtaking. Peeking through the clouds were the massive Andes Mountains covered with glaciers and even ice fields reminiscent of the Antarctic continent. From the left side of the plane my parents saw the famous Torres del Paine national park which we later visited on a day trip from Puerto Natales (see the picture). This most-austral city has a pretty mild climate, and a few days of -5°C (25°F) with icy roads and sidewalks has just today given way to above-freezing temperatures, fog, and a little snow in the mountains.
Our science group moved aboard our ship today, the R/V Lawrence M. Gould. This ship is one of two icebreaker research vessels that the US has dedicated mostly to Antarctic science. The other larger ship, the R/V Nathanial B. Palmer, was here in port for a few days before heading south to the Antarctic Peninsula area as well. We plan to set out tomorrow, Sunday, bright and early and head north out of the Strait of Magellan. From there we have a 4-5 day trip across the Drake Passage, about one thousand miles, to the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our destination is Palmer Station on the southern end of Anvers Island. The crossing of this passage is notoriously rough, and many scientists have been known to spend the entire week holed up in their bunks fighting seasickness. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) flows west to east around the Antarctic continent unimpeded by land masses, except for the constriction south of South America. This constriction is what we’ll be crossing. The weather promises strong (at least 35knot) winds from the east and waves to match.
I won’t have web access from the ship, but we do have a satellite email service. From there I hope to post and update sometime during the crossing…after the adventure really begins. Stay tuned!
Punta Arenas, Chile