by Sam Scott, Associate Curator, Peabody Essex Museum
Turn your globe on its head so that the continent of Antarctica is at the top. Notice the ring of ocean that encircles the continent. These waters are known as the Southern Ocean, and they have earned the deep respect of mariners for generations. Wind and wave move unimpeded all the way around the globe causing sailors to name the regions south of 70 degrees latitude the Shrieking Sixties, Furious Fifties and Roaring Forties. In addition to strong winds and massive waves, there are also icebergs with which to contend. Rich will be sailing into these waters as he rounds the Cape of Good Hope and turns Great American III for the long run eastward.
For much of the long passage toward Cape Horn, the closest continental land mass to Rich and Great American III will be Antarctica itself–the coldest, windiest and driest place on earth. Human contact with Antarctica began in the 19th century, and the long difficult journey across the Southern Ocean to this cold continent delayed a sustained human presence there until the 20th century.
The Antarctica Treaty System, begun in 1959, prevents any nation from claiming territory on the continent and promotes international scientific research. Long thought to be far beyond the reach of human impact, Antarctica is now seen as one of our best barometers for measuring the pace and magnitude of global climate change.