Drake Passage Opening

What Are They Doing?

This project studied the opening of the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica through a combined marine geophysical survey and geochemical study of dredged ocean floor basalts. Dating the passage's opening is key to understanding the formation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which plays a major role in worldwide ocean circulation, and whose formation is connected with the growth of the Antarctic ice sheet. The samples that were collected were used in various geochemical studies to determine their age and constrained mantle flow beneath the region.

The research team included graduate students, as well as undergraduate students, and a K-12 teacher. The cruise also involved international collaboration with the United Kingdom and is part of International Polar Year project, Plates and Gates, which aims to reconstruct the geologic history of polar ocean basins and gateways for computer simulations of climate change. Click here to learn more about the international work.

Where Are They?

The team traveled to and from Punta Arenas, Chile, where they boarded the research icebreaker Nathanial B. Palmer. From Punta Arenas, Chile, they traveled to the opening of the Drake Passage, between South America and Antarctica and into the Southern Ocean. Click here to learn more about icebreaker.

Expedition Map


I did make it back to Austin, Texas safe and sound. I had 3 excellent flights back to Austin that were all on time and ran smoothly. My students were very anxious to see me again after being gone for over a month and a half, so I went back to teach the very next day. That first morning back I was greeted with a huge banner, flowers, and many posters welcoming me back to Zilker Elementary. It was very sweet and I was very grateful! The local news came to my classroom later that day for interviews with both the kids and me. We were all very excited to share our experience with the Austin...
Click the icon below to listen to an audio journal by Katie Pena, from Punta Arenas, Chile.
I started my day a little later than most because I slept until 11:30 a.m.! I was in bed for close to 11 hours, but that is good because for the past couple of nights I had only gotten maybe a total of 5 hours of sleep. The boat was swaying more than normal due to higher waves, which had made sleeping more difficult. Although, we have had unusually excellent weather and seas, and the Palmer is very steady-so I am grateful. At 1:00 in the afternoon we had our final fire/ safety drill. So, for the last time I took my lifejacket and immersion suit to the conference room on the 03 deck for...
Today we had an opportunity to take a tour of the engine room. The tour was led by 3 of the 4 engineers, Dave (chief engineer), Richard (2nd assistant engineer), and Jerry (3rd assistant engineer). The engine room is located in the very bottom of the ship. We were first taken down the stairs and into their office where we had a quick overview of the equipment and safety. Then we all put on protective headphones and headed into the very loud and colorful engine room. Check out all of these cool photos of the different equipment! Engines Gauges More Gauges and Pipes Richard shared...
The webinar was a great success! I really enjoyed presenting my experiences to many students all over the US. The scientists were also very impressed with the level of questions that were asked by the students. I hope that everyone that participated enjoyed it as much as we did here on the ship. I must express my gratitude-- I want to thank everyone onboard the NBPalmer for a great experience. Especially all of the geo team, Ian, Larry, Julian, Peter, Marcy, Alan, Matt, Kevin, and Lauren for allowing me on this awesome learning experience, making me feel welcome, and for sharing their...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

12 April 2008 to 27 May 2008
Location: Drake Passage
Project Funded Title: Central Scotia Seafloor and the Drake Passage Deep Ocean Current Gateway

Meet the Team

Katie Pena's picture
Zilker Elementary School
Austin, TX
United States

Katie Peña currently teaches at Zilker Elementary School in Austin, Texas. This is her 4th year of teaching at the school where she has taught both the 4th and 5th grades. A graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, with a Bachelor in Science in Applied Learning and Development, Katie has always known she wanted to be a teacher. As far back as 3rd grade in Coppell, Texas, her teacher, Mrs. Howard, whose picture she still has, inspired her by changing her attitude about school and challenging her to have fun while learning. Mrs. Howard had changed Katie’s life, and she knew that she wanted to do the same for other children. Since becoming a teacher, Katie has continued her quest to help every child find joy in learning. Her daily goals for teaching are very simple, teach to each child and have a blast while doing it.

Lawrence Lawver's picture
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX
United States

Dr. Lawver currently focuses his research on paleogeographic reconstructions of Gondwana, the Polar Regions, East Asia, and the Western Pacific, the development of paleo-seaways and their impact on climate, and the aerogeophysics of the Arctic region. He is particularly interested in two of the remaining problems in the study of plate tectonics: understanding the timing and process of the opening of the Canada Basin of the Arctic region, and the impact of plate tectonics on long-term climate change. Lawver uses marine magnetic anomaly, heat flow, and aerogeophysical data, as well as computer graphics, to aid in understanding the break-up and evolution of the Polar Regions. He has acquired heat flow, marine magnetic, and seismic data during cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Recent work with his colleague Marta Ghidella of the Instituto Antartico Argentino has led to a new understanding of the early break-up history of the Weddell Sea region of Antarctica. As one of the principal investigators of UTIG's PLATES project, Lawver uses the PLATES global databases as an investigative tool in carrying out his research.

Ian Dalziel's picture
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX
United States

Ian W.D. Dalziel is a Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Geophysics, University of Texas in Austin. Ian has dedicated most of his career to understanding global tectonic processes and to mapping out the geography of ancient times on a dynamic Earth. His 35 years of field experience have been devoted to work in the British Caledonides, the Canadian Shield, the Andes, and Antarctica. Recently, working with colleagues from the U.K. and Australia, Ian has turned his attention to unraveling the complicated tectonic history of Scotland, his homeland. Ian was president of the International Division of Geological Society of America from 1996 to 1997, has served as delegate to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research of International Union of Geological Sciences since 1987, and has served as the International Secretary of the American Geophysical Union since 1996.