Sea Arch, Chile

Alexander von Humboldt & His Namesake Current

Zegrahm Contributor|May 27, 2015|Blog Post

As you take in the marvels of Chile and Peru—from the pre-Columbian ruins of Chan Chán to the Andean wonderland of Lauca National Park, replete with volcanoes and glacier lakes—you’ll also be introduced to the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current. Just what is it and who is Humboldt? Let’s review…

Supporting an amazing concentration of seabirds, fish, and marine mammals, the Humboldt Current is a cold ocean current flowing north along South America’s west coast, from Chile to northern Peru. It’s famous as one of Earth’s major upwelling systems, which means it boasts a plethora of marine life and is the world’s most productive marine ecosystem. It also affects the climates of Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, cooling off these areas considerably, as well as creating the aridity of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile.

So, who is Humboldt? Prussian geographer, naturalist, and explorer Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt worked significantly in the field of botanical geography, which laid a concrete foundation for the field of biogeography. He traveled extensively in Latin America between 1799 and 1804, journaling prolifically and researching the region in a modern scientific method that was yet to be employed in that area. He was one of the first scientists to suggest that the land masses on the Atlantic Ocean borders were once joined.

The funny thing is, Humboldt was a fairly poor student at first. He attempted to study economics at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, but was miserable, and upon moving to Berlin for a year, he stumbled upon botany and fell in love with the field. After some years, the lack of flora in Brandenburg became frustrating and he dreamed of more exotic lands. An appointment to the Mining Department of the Prussian government sent him into the remote Fichtel Mountains; after political upheaval due to the Napoleonic Wars thwarted several of his planned scientific explorations, Humboldt gained permission from the Spanish government to visit colonies in Central and South America that had, until that point, been all but cut off from exploration by the rest of the world. From here, his passion was finally given the room to grow, as he and French botanist Aimé Bonpland spent five years in the area, and studied more than 6,000 miles of landscape.

Among his lasting contributions are meteorological data gleaned during those years, the relationship between a region’s geography and its flora and fauna, and his studies of Andean volcanoes and the development of the Earth’s crust.

Perhaps you’ll pick up a copy of his renowned Kosmos, written during the last 25 years of his life and one of the most ambitious scientific works ever published. Just a little something to prepare you for your exploration of one of the most incredible marine-life regions in the world. 

Related Blog Posts