Crossing Drake Passage


Drake Passage is the 500 mile wide body of water separating South America’s southern tip, Cape Horn, from Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean (Scotia Sea) to the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. Named for the 16th-century English privateer, Sir Francis Drake, whose last remaining ship, after having passed through the Straight of Magellan, was blown far south in 1578, revealing an open connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Chemical studies of fish teeth found in oceanic sedimentary rock confirm that Drake Passage was closed until about 40 million years ago. The separation of the two continents, created the Antarctic Circumpolar Current carrying a volume of water 600 times the flow of the Amazon River through Drake Passage, and around the Antarctic continent. And because this stretch of ocean circumvents the Earth without encountering any significant land masses, winds and waves can, and do build to incredible heights and force.

Before this passage opened some 40 million years ago, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were entirely separate, with Antarctica being much warmer and having no ice cap. The joining of these two great oceans created the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, cooling the Antarctic Continent significantly.

Since nothing has melted in Antarctica in millions of years, today the Antarctic continent contains 90% of the entire Earth’s ice.

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