Thursday, December 22, 2016

Arrival in Punta Arenas

It's really happening!

We're here in Punta Arenas, Chile! It's the first stop on our journey through the Southern Ocean, and that makes it special. Let me tell you a little bit about this city.

This map shows the location of Punta Arenas, right on the Strait of Magellan
Steve Riser (left) and Ted Blanco (right) walk to the port.
Three days go to before we weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen! But you can look forward to my updates on this blog as we get everything ready. I'll introduce you to the two other science teams on the ship as well as the ship technicians and the rest of the crew. 

Punta Arenas is one of just a few gateways to the Antarctic (the others are in South Africa and Australia/New Zealand). It's the largest city south of the 46th parallel south, and it's rich with history—especially naval. The monument pictured above stands tall in the middle of a city park. Up there is Ferdinand Magellan stepping out into the unknown with the confidence of a true globetrotter.

Magellan was the Portugese explorer, who led the Spanish expedition that circumnavigated the Earth in the early 16th century.

His name is everywhere.

First of all, this southernmost region of Chile is called "Magallanes" or more formally, "XII Region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica." Punta Arenas was even renamed Magallanes for about a decade between 1927 and 1938. It sits on the Strait of Magellan.

From here, if you drive for 45 minutes northwest, you'll come to Seno Otway (or Otway Sound). Along the coast of the sound, there's a large Magellanic Penguin colony, and their nesting season is... right now! (We don't have enough time to make this journey, but it's good to have a back-up penguin-viewing plan in case we miss the boat!)

The Magallanes Region is Chile's largest, and second-least populated region in Chile... and hardest region to get to from the U.S. After about 26 hours of travel, I was refreshed and a little dazed when I stepped through the Punta Arenas airport doors, the smell of sand and sea splashing me in the face.

It's summertime here in the Southern hemisphere, but we're still running around with jackets on. Every day is in the 50s (ºF). Today it's been misting. In the morning the wind blows gently, but come noon, it's tearing in from the west! It's such a strong wind, my hard hat flew off while walking among the ships at the port!

This kind of weather is pretty typical for Punta Arenas in December. That's not what's happening on the other side of the world, though. I know that right now we've all got an eye on Santa's homeland, the Arctic. This year, extremely warm temperatures have come to that region, leading scientists to anticipate record-low ice coverage next year. Lack of ice up there leads to a darker surface of the Earth, less reflection of sunlight, and consequently, more warming.

It may be chilly (Chile!) but it's certainly not dark here. It's 10 PM, and I wouldn't hesitate to toss a frisbee. It won't get truly dark until about 11:00 PM. And that's great! Because the SOCCOM team has work to do.

Stephen Riser, the chief scientist of the SOCCOM team on the ship, is as busy as a bee. He appropriately dons a bright yellow jacket before walking from his hotel through the savage winds to the port. The floats have already been loaded on to the N.B. Palmer, but there are still schedules to be confirmed and last-minute calibrations and checks that need to be done, and that keeps him busy.

But wait there's more! I'm traveling with my colleague, Ted Blanco. He's a filmmaker and multimedia master, so if cameras and filmmaking are your thing, check out his blog at He'll be telling the story from behind the camera!

So settle yourselves in to these next few weeks of adventure. Four weeks seems like a long time to be away from family and friends, out on the open ocean, but I'm sure it'll blow by! ;)


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