Antarctic Blog – 14 March 2009

p3150010-cropUshuaia, Argentina. Roald Amundsen, growing up in Norway, dreamt of going to the North Pole. Later, when he led the first team to the South Pole, he wrote in his diary, “How topsy turvy is that?”

I feel a bit like that tonight.  Ushuaia is the most southerly town on earth, on the island of Tierra de Fuego, south of Patagonia. It is ‘the end of the earth’, ‘the bottom of the map’. But most of us who have arrived here to set sail to Antarctica on Monday feel on top of the world! Why? Because Ushuaia is a stunningly beautiful place, right next to the Beagle Channel. This runs between the island of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia and is surrounded by sharp, jagged mountains. And the first snow of winter fell on the mountain tops two days before we arrived …
On the way down, in between reading books about Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, I looked at some articles about energy in Argentina. About 60% of its electricity comes from gas and almost all the rest from hydroelectric schemes. There is virtually no other renewable generation. However, the wind resource is immense – today, in Ushuaia, it was blowing so hard that any turbines would have had to be stopped to prevent malfunction. In addition, the wave and tidal stream resource of the Drake Passage, the 600-mile sea between here and the Antarctic Peninsula (which we are crossing next week) is also immense, for the simple reason that the Drake Passage is the channel between the two biggest and most powerful oceans in the world: the Pacific and the Atlantic. Argentina and Chile could harness this resource and become 100% renewable, not only for electricity, but also for heat and surface transport (using electric vehicles). 
Tomorrow, we are waking up to a glacier.  Or rather, as our guide told us today, to an ex-glacier, as it has already virtually all melted. This will be a strange mixture of emotions: inspiring natural beauty combined with a symbol of humanity’s destructive powers if we continue to make the wrong choices.

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