Signy Island base and panorama
Map of the South Orkney Islands
|Area||620 km2 (240 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||4,153 ft (1265.8 m)|
Administered under the Antarctic Treaty System
|Population||approx. 53-55 (Summer) 14 (Winter)|
The South Orkney Islands are a group of islands in the Southern Ocean, about 604 kilometres (375 mi) north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and 844 kilometres (524 mi) south-west of South Georgia Island. They have a total area of about 620 square kilometres (240 sq mi). The islands are claimed both by Britain (as part of the British Antarctic Territory since 1962, previously as a Falkland Islands Dependency), and by Argentina as part of Argentine Antarctica. Under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, sovereignty claims are held in abeyance.
Britain and Argentina both maintain bases on the islands. The Argentine base, Orcadas, established 1904, is sited on Laurie Island. The 11 buildings of the Argentine station house up to 45 people during the summer, and an average of 14 during winter. The British Antarctic Survey base, Signy Research Station, is located on Signy Island and was established in 1947. Initially operated year-round, since 1995/6 the Signy Research Station has been open only from November to April each year (southern hemisphere summer).
Apart from personnel at the bases, there are no permanent inhabitants on the islands.
The South Orkney Islands were discovered in 1821 by two sealers, the American Nathaniel Brown Palmer and the British George Powell. The Islands were originally named Powell's Group, with the main island named Coronation Island as it was the year of the coronation of King George IV. In 1823, James Weddell visited the Islands, gave the archipelago its present name (after the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland) and also renamed some of the islands. The South Orkney Islands are located at roughly the same latitude south as the Orkney Islands are north (60°S vs 59°N), although it is not known if this was a factor behind the naming of the islands.
Subsequently, the islands were frequently visited by sealers and whalers, but no thorough survey was done until the expedition of William Speirs Bruce on the Scotia in 1903, which overwintered at Laurie Island. Bruce surveyed the islands, reverted some of Weddell's name changes, and established a meteorological station, which was sold to the Argentine Government upon his departure in 1904. This base, renamed Orcadas in 1951, is still in operation today [update] and is thus the oldest research station continuously staffed in the Antarctic.
In 1908, the United Kingdom declared sovereignty over various Antarctic and South American territories "to the south of the 50th parallel of south latitude, and lying between the 20th and the 80th degrees of west longitude", including the South Orkney Islands.The Islands were subsequently administered as part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies. A biological research station on Signy Island was built in 1947 by the British Antarctic Survey, and was staffed year-round until 1996, when the Station staffing was reduced to 8-10 personnel who remained only during the southern hemisphere summer (November to April each year). In 1962, the islands became part of the newly established British Antarctic Territory.
The Argentine claim to the islands dates from 1925. It was originally justified by the Argentine occupation of the Laurie Island base and later subsumed into a wider territorial claim.
The islands are situated at latitudes about 60°30' to 60°48' S and longitudes 44°25' to 46°43' W in the Southern Ocean. As a group of islands, the South Orkney Islands are at approximately .
The archipelago comprises four main islands. Coronation Island is the largest, measuring about 30 miles (48 km) long; its highest point is Mount Nivea which rises to 4,153 feet (1,266 m) above sea level. Laurie Island is the easternmost of the islands. The other main islands are Powell and Signy. Smaller islands in the group include Robertson Islands, the Saddle Islands, and Acuña Island. The total area of the archipelago is about 240 square miles (620 km2), of which about 90 percent is glaciated.
The Inaccessible Islands about 15 nmi (17 mi; 28 km) to the west are considered part of the South Orkneys.
The climate of the South Orkneys is generally cold, wet, and windy. Summers are short and cold (December to March) when the average temperatures reach about 3.5 °C (38.3 °F ) and fall to about −12.8 °C (9 °F) in July. The all time temperature range is between 12 and −44 °C (53.6 and −47.2 °F). The seas around the islands are ice-covered from late April to November.
South Orkney Trough () is an undersea trough named in association with the South Orkney Islands and approved 10/77 (ACUF 177).
Despite the harsh conditions the islands do support vegetation and are part of the Scotia Sea Islands tundra ecoregion, along with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the South Shetland Islands and Bouvet Island. All these islands lie in the cold seas below the Antarctic convergence. These areas support tundra vegetation consisting of mosses, lichens and algae, while seabirds, penguins and seals feed in the surrounding waters.
The littoral zone of the South Orkneys is biologically either lifeless or very poor. Amphipods and planarians exist under rocks, along with various algaes, chitons, and some gastropods. With increasing water depth, life becomes more varied: starfish appear beyond 2–3 meters along with sponges, urchins, and ascidians. At 8–10 meters the variety of starfish increases along with the general biomass, and below 30 meters there are vast colonies of these creatures. Two penguin species, Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae), are present on land.
The two claimant nations maintain research stations on the islands.
The history of Antarctica emerges from early Western theories of a vast continent, known as Terra Australis, believed to exist in the far south of the globe. The term Antarctic, referring to the opposite of the Arctic Circle, was coined by Marinus of Tyre in the 2nd century AD.
The British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories, of which it is by far the largest by area. It comprises the region south of 60°S latitude and between longitudes 20°W and 80°W, forming a wedge shape that extends to the South Pole, overlapping the Antarctic claims of Argentina and Chile.
The South Shetland Islands are a group of Antarctic islands with a total area of 3,687 square kilometres (1,424 sq mi). They lie about 120 kilometres (75 mi) north of the Antarctic Peninsula, and between 430 kilometres (270 mi) to 900 kilometres (560 mi) south-west from the nearest point of the South Orkney Islands. By the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the islands' sovereignty is neither recognized nor disputed by the signatories and they are free for use by any signatory for non-military purposes.
Base Orcadas is an Argentine scientific station in Antarctica, and the oldest of the stations in Antarctica still in operation. It is located on Laurie Island, one of the South Orkney Islands, at 4 meters (13.1 ft) above sea level and 170 meters (558 ft) from the coastline. Established by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1903 and transferred to the Argentine government in 1904, the base has been permanently populated since, being one of six Argentine permanent bases in Argentina's claim to Antarctica, and the first permanently inhabited base in Antarctica.
Signy Research Station is an Antarctic research base on Signy Island, run by the British Antarctic Survey.
Argentine Antarctica is a sector of Antarctica claimed by Argentina as part of its national territory consisting of the Antarctic Peninsula and a triangular section extending to the South Pole, delimited by the 25° West and 74° West meridians and the 60° South parallel. This region overlaps the British and Chilean claims in Antarctica; however, all claims are suspended by the Antarctic Treaty System, of which Argentina is a founding signatory and permanent consulting member, with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat being based in Buenos Aires.
Laurie Island is the second largest of the South Orkney Islands. The island is claimed by both Argentina as part of Argentine Antarctica, and the United Kingdom as part of the British Antarctic Territory. However, under the Antarctic Treaty System all sovereignty claims are frozen, as the island lies south of the parallel 60°. Buchanan Point at the north-eastern end of the island, with Cape Whitson on its south coast, are Important Bird Areas.
A number of governments have set up permanent research stations in Antarctica and these bases are widely distributed. Unlike the drifting ice stations set up in the Arctic, the research stations of the Antarctic are constructed either on rock or on ice that is fixed in place.
The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (SNAE), 1902–1904, was organised and led by William Speirs Bruce, a natural scientist and former medical student from the University of Edinburgh. Although overshadowed in terms of prestige by Robert Falcon Scott's concurrent Discovery Expedition, the SNAE completed a full programme of exploration and scientific work. Its achievements included the establishment of a manned meteorological station, the first in Antarctic territory, and the discovery of new land to the east of the Weddell Sea. Its large collection of biological and geological specimens, together with those from Bruce's earlier travels, led to the establishment of the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in 1906.
Scotia Bay is a bay 4 km (2.5 mi) wide, lying immediately east of Mossman Peninsula on the south side of Laurie Island, in the South Orkney Islands of Antarctica. It was discovered and roughly charted in the course of the joint cruise by Captain George Powell and Captain Nathaniel Palmer in 1821. It was surveyed in 1903 by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition under William Speirs Bruce who named it for the expedition ship Scotia.
Laws Glacier is a confluent glacier system which flows into Marshall Bay on the south coast of Coronation Island, in the South Orkney Islands off Antarctica. It was surveyed in 1948–49 by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), and was named by the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee for Richard M. Laws of the FIDS, leader and biologist at Signy Research Station in 1948 and 1949, and at South Georgia in 1951.
There are seven sovereign states who have made eight territorial claims in Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. These countries have tended to place their Antarctic scientific observation and study facilities within their respective claimed territories; however, a number of such facilities are located outside of the area claimed by their respective countries of operation, and countries without claims such as India, Italy, Russia and the United States have constructed research facilities within the areas claimed by other countries.
The Instituto Antártico Argentino is the Argentine federal agency in charge of orientating, controlling, addressing and performing scientific and technical research and studies in the Antarctic.
Ferguslie Peninsula is a peninsula 2.4 km (1.5 mi) long, lying between Browns Bay and Macdougal Bay on the north coast of Laurie Island, in the South Orkney Islands of Antarctica. The peninsula was charted in 1903 by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition under William Speirs Bruce, who named it for Ferguslie, the residence of James Coats, chief patron of the expedition.
Mossman Peninsula is a narrow peninsula 3 nautical miles (6 km) long, extending south from the western part of Laurie Island and separating Scotia Bay and Wilton Bay, in the South Orkney Islands of Antarctica. Point Martin lies on the eastern side of the peninsula. It was discovered in 1821 by Captains George Powell and Nathaniel Palmer, and roughly charted on Powell's map of 1822. It was surveyed in 1903 by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition under William Speirs Bruce, who named it for Robert C. Mossman, the meteorologist of the expedition.
Mill Cove is a cove entered between Cape Anderson and Valette Island on the south coast of Laurie Island, in the South Orkney Islands off Antarctica. It was charted in 1903 by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition under William Speirs Bruce, who named it for Hugh Robert Mill, a British geographer and polar historian.
Matthews Island is the largest of the Robertson Islands in the South Orkney Islands off Antarctica. It lies immediately south-east of Coronation Island, from which it is separated by a narrow channel known as the Divide. Matthews Island was mapped as part of Coronation Island until January 1957 when a Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) party established its insularity. It was named by the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee in 1959 for Drummond H. Matthews, a FIDS geologist at Signy Island in 1956.
Parborlasia corrugata is a proboscis worm in the family Cerebratulidae. This species of proboscis or ribbon worm can grow to 2 metres in length, and lives in marine environments down to 3,590 metres (11,780 ft). This scavenger and predator is widely distributed in cold southern oceans.
Argentina was one of the twelve original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty which was signed in December 1, 1959, and came in force on 21 June 1961.
Scotia was a barque that was built in 1872 as the Norwegian whaler Hekla. She was purchased in 1902 by William Speirs Bruce and refitted as a research vessel for use by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition. After the expedition, she served as a sealer, patrol vessel and collier. She was destroyed by fire in January 1916.
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