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Magellan’s Weather

June 16, 2008

The climate anomaly known as El Niño could explain why the voyage of Magellan encountered an unusually calm Pacific Ocean.


Magellan’s favorable weather….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Pacific Ocean got its name when the explorer Ferdinand Magellan first reached it from South America in 1520 and noted how calm and peaceful it was. But according to Scott Fitzpatrick of North Carolina State University, this observation was not shared by later explorers.

SCOTT FITZPATRICK (North Carolina State University):
A lot of the historical voyages that come after that they all talk about this tumultuous voyage across the tip of South America.

He and fellow archaeologist Richard Callaghan of the University of Calgary think Magellan’s voyage may have been influenced by a periodic weather anomaly called El Niño, which is characterized by warm, placid southern oceans and widespread drought. Magellan sought a westward trade route to the Spice Islands, but the explorer himself was killed before his expedition became the first to circumnavigate the globe. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.