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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Drake Passage
by Savannah Sayers
Physical Geology
Spring 2017

                                                                                 Drake Passage

                                              What is the Drake Passage?

    The Drake Passage is the 600-mile area of ocean between the Southern tip of South America, Cape Horn in Chile, and Antarctica. It is some of the roughest water in the world, and many seafarers dread having to pass through it. The area connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The air and water temperatures are sometimes freezing cold, which makes passing through that much less enjoyable. While it is said that the passage was sailed through first in the 1500ís, the passage gets its name from Sir Frances Drake who led an expedition through it in 1616 name from Sir Frances Drake who led an expedition through it in 1616.

Rough water at sea

(photo credits:


Basic Facts About the Drake Passage

    Until the Panama Canal was built, this area of sea was important in international trade.  Whether ship traders liked it or not, they had to pass through. Due to the fact that this was the only way to make a round-the globe trip, it provided a test for seamen when passing through.  The deepest parts of the passage are upwards of 15,000 feet deep.  The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the current that runs through the passage, is the strongest wind current in the world, and for this, wind is very intense, with gusts up to 100-150 miles per hour in intense weather. The average temperature of the year is about 40 degrees, with surface water temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degrees.

    Water surges through the Drake Passage at a whopping 140 million cubic meters per second, which is the equivalent of 600 Amazon River surges.  This means that the storms and waves are fast, unpredictable, strong, and create huge swells.  Another issue comes with icebergs. When nearing Antarctica, icebergs are a cause for concern, as what one sees is not always the reality, when icebergs mass is mostly concealed by the water.


Iceberg in the Antarctic

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What Makes the Passage so Dangerous?

    The Drake Passage is an area where three seas meet; The Pacific, Atlantic, and Southern Seas. It is also an area where temperatures clash, due to the mixing of the oceans. When temperatures and currents meet in one area, especially one like the Drake Passage where there is no landmass breaking up such contact, the result are some of the roughest seas in the world.

    Another issue is that due to the meeting of currents in this way, there is a huge amount of water being pushed through. Not only are mixing of temperatures an issue, but now water volume is thrown in. Even though there is no landmass directly breaking up the flow of water, land does play a part. With a relatively small gap between the two continents, the water is pushed through the gap, meaning the already existing conditions stated that cause rough waters, are aggravated due to the smaller opening between the two continents.


Stormy ocean weather

(Photo Credits:


The Challenge of The Drake Passage

    After examining the dangers of such an area of ocean, it is easy to see why people are hesitant to sail the water there. However, it also provides the ultimate challenge. Today, ships and boats have evolved to contain stabilizers and other technological advances that allow sailing through the passage to be easier than before.

    The Drake Passage itself is a natural wonder, the pure coincidence of a collection of seas meeting in one point to create an environment rich in plankton. Hundreds of ships have been lost at sea in the Drake Passage, as sometimes even perseverance does not overcome the strength of nature. This provides a sense of adventure and tests seamenís knowledge of the ocean.


    Painting of a ship on a stormy sea

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Related Links/Works Cited