Viewing eclipses is on the minds of many given the annual June 10 “ring of fire” solar eclipse. The most spectacular eclipses are total solar eclipses, and the entire decade of the 2020s will be only six. The next one will be on December 4, 2021 and there is only one place in the world where you will be on the path to totality: Antarctica, above the newly recognized Southern Ocean in the world.
The New Southern Ocean
On World Oceans Day 2021, June 8, National Geographic announced that the Earth now has five oceans. The Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans are now officially joined by the Southern Ocean.
The new name is due to the fact that the waters of the Southern Ocean are geographically and ecologically different from the southern parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Southern Ocean includes the waters around Antarctica up to a latitude of 60 degrees to the south. While the other four oceans are defined by the land around them, the Southern Ocean is defined by a current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
Seth Sykora-Bodie, National Geographic explorer and marine scientist at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, explained it this way to National Geographic: “Anyone who’s been there will be hard-pressed to explain what is so fascinating about it, but they will be. all agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go.
The most fascinating time to see the Southern Ocean will be during the next total solar eclipse.
The total solar eclipse in Antarctica on December 4, 2021
Total solar eclipses are rare – there are only six for the entire decade of the 2020s – and even rarer at the bottom of the planet. The first time humans witnessed it in Antarctica was on November 23, 2003.
Antarctica’s next total solar eclipse will be on December 4, 2021. The next after this will be in East Timor, Indonesia, on April 20, 2023.
Unless you are flying over or over Antarctica to do scientific research, the only way to see the eclipse over the Southern Ocean is on an Antarctic cruise. The eclipse will be best seen between the South Orkney Islands and South Georgia, northeast of the Antarctic mainland and southeast of the Falkland / Malvinas Islands.
There will be less than two minutes of totality during this eclipse. This will be unusual not only because of the spectacular location of the Southern Ocean, but also because the eclipse will move in the opposite direction – east to west – than a normal eclipse. Eclipses outside the Earth’s polar regions move from west to east. The eclipse will also be low on the horizon and therefore perhaps framed by spectacular icebergs, assuming there isn’t much cloud cover blocking the view.
See the Antarctic eclipse aboard the PONANT
Several cruise lines offer eclipse cruises, including Abercrombie & Kent, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Hurtigruten, Intrepid Travel, Lindblad, Pura Aventura, PONANT, and Quark Expeditions. The Covid pandemic means they are not all sold yet.
PONANT is a good choice; their eclipse cruise will be aboard the new hybrid electric vessel, The Commander-Charcot. PONANT is known for its luxury small ships and exceptional shore excursions, and undertakes environmental and social impact studies when developing new routes. The aim is to involve local communities and indigenous peoples and to protect the natural environment and cultural heritage of the destinations it visits. Cruise Industry News reported that PONANT was named the Most Environmentally Friendly Cruise Line of 2020.
The PONANT eclipse cruise lasts 15 days and departs from Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego Argentina. Weather permitting, the cruise plans to allow its passengers to watch the eclipse over the thick sea ice of the Weddell Sea.
Another option is to charter a vessel. Naia is a 12 passenger yacht from EYOS Expeditions, the world leader in private yacht charter. The yacht will be in the Southern Ocean for the 2021-22 season.