Drake Passage

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Drake Passage showing the boundary points A, B, C, D, E and F accorded by the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1984 between Chile and Argentina
Tourist expedition ship Akademik Ioffe sailing across the Drake Passage to Antarctica
Depth profile with salinity and temperature for surface

The Drake Passage (referred to as Mar de Hoces ["Hoces Sea"] in Spain and other Spanish speaking countries) is the body of water between South America's Cape Horn, Chile and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean (Scotia Sea) with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean.

The Drake Passage is considered one of the most treacherous voyages for ships to make. Currents at its latitude meet no resistance from any landmass, and waves top 40 feet, hence its reputation as "the most powerful convergence of seas".[1]


Sailing south from the entrance of the Strait of Magellan, Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces discovered this passage in 1525.[2] For this reason, it appears as Mar de Hoces in most Spanish and Spanish American maps and sources.

The passage received its English name from the 16th-century privateer Francis Drake during his circumnavigation. Drake's only remaining ship, after having passed through the Strait of Magellan, was blown far south in September 1578. This incident demonstrated to the English that there was open water south of South America.[3]

The first recorded voyage through the passage was that of Eendracht, captained by the Dutch navigator Jacob Le Maire in 1616, naming Cape Horn in the process.

The first human-powered transit (by rowing) across the passage was accomplished on December 25, 2019, by captain Fiann Paul (Iceland), first mate Colin O'Brady (US), Andrew Towne (US), Cameron Bellamy (South Africa), Jamie Douglas-Hamilton (UK) and John Petersen (US).[4] Their accomplishment became the subject of a 2020 documentary, The Impossible Row.


There is much debate about when the Drake Passage was opened, due to deep currents like the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).[5] This opening could have been a primary cause of changes in global circulation and climate, as well as the rapid expansion of Antarctic ice sheets, because as Antarctica was encircled by ocean currents it was cut from receiving heat from warmer regions.[6] Precise dating of the earliest opening of the Drake Passage is complicated by the existence of plate fragments, which have been reconstructed to show the age of the earliest pathway.

The 800-kilometre (500 mi) wide passage between Cape Horn and Livingston Island is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to another landmass. The boundary between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is sometimes taken to be a line drawn from Cape Horn to Snow Island (130 kilometres (81 mi) north of mainland Antarctica), though the International Hydrographic Organization defines it as the meridian that passes through Cape Horn—67° 16′ W.[7] Both lines lie within the Drake Passage.

The other two passages around the extreme southern part of South America (though not going around Cape Horn as such), the Strait of Magellan and Beagle Channel, are narrow, leaving little maneuvering room for a ship. They can become icebound. Sometimes the wind blows so strongly that no sailing vessel can make headway against it. Most sailing ships thus prefer the Drake Passage, which is open water for hundreds of miles. The small Diego Ramírez Islands lie about 100 kilometres (62 mi) south-southwest of Cape Horn.

No significant land sits at the latitudes of the Drake Passage. That is important to the unimpeded flow eastward of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which carries a huge volume of water through the passage and around Antarctica.

The passage hosts whales, dolphins and seabirds including giant petrels, other petrels, albatrosses and penguins.


Wildlife in the Drake Passage includes the following species:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "6 men become 1st to cross perilous Drake Passage unassisted". AP NEWS. 2019-12-28. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  2. ^ Oyarzun, Javier, Expediciones españolas al Estrecho de Magallanes y Tierra de Fuego, 1976, Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica ISBN 84-7232-130-4
  3. ^ Martinic B., Mateo (2019). "Entre el mito y la realidad. La situación de la misteriosa Isla Elizabeth de Francis Drake" [Between myth and reality. The situation of the mysterious Elizabeth Island of Francis Drake]. Magallania (in Spanish). 47 (1): 5–14. doi:10.4067/S0718-22442019000100005.
  4. ^ "Impossible Row team achieve first ever row across the Drake Passage". Guinness World Records. 2019-12-27. Retrieved 2020-03-10.
  5. ^ "Drake Passage | Drake Passage". projects.noc.ac.uk. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  6. ^ Livermore, Roy; Hillenbrand, Claus-Dieter; Meredith, Mik e; Eagles, Graeme (2007). "Drake Passage and Cenozoic climate: An open and shut case?". Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. 8 (1). doi:10.1029/2005GC001224. ISSN 1525-2027.
  7. ^ International Hydrographic Organization, Limits of Oceans and Seas, Special Publication No. 28, 3rd edition, 1953 [1], p.4
  8. ^ Lowen, James (2011). Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 44–49, 112–158. ISBN 9780691150338.

External links[edit]

Media related to Drake Passage at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 58°35′S 65°54′W / 58.583°S 65.900°W / -58.583; -65.900