South Sandwich Islands

Captain James Cook discovered the southern eight islands of the Sandwich Islands Group in 1775, although he lumped the southernmost three together, and their status as separate islands was not established until 1820 by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen.
The northern three islands were discovered by Bellingshausen in 1819. The islands were tentatively named “Sandwich Land” by Cook, although he also commented that they might be a group of islands rather than a single body of land. The name was chosen in honour of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. The word “South” was later added to distinguish them from the “Sandwich Islands”, now known as the Hawaiian Islands.

Argentina claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938 and challenged British sovereignty in the Islands on several occasions. From 25 January 1955 to mid-1956, Argentina maintained the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the southeastern coast of Thule Island.
Argentina maintained a naval base (Corbeta Uruguay) from 1976 to 1982, in the lee (southern east coast) of the same island. Although the British discovered the presence of the Argentine base in 1976, protested and tried to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, no effort was made to remove them by force until after the Falklands War. The base was removed on 20 June 1982.

On 10 February 2008, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake had its epicentre 205 km (127 mi; 111 nmi) south-southeast of Bristol Island. On 30 June 2008 at 06:17:53 UTC, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the region. Its epicentre was at 58.160S 21.893W, 283 km (176 mi; 153 nmi) ENE (73 degrees) of Bristol Island.
The United States Geological Survey reported that a 7.3-magnitude earthquake had occurred at 10:04 EDT on 15 Jul 2013, 216 km (134 mi; 117 nmi) south-southeast of Bristol Island, South Sandwich Islands, at a depth of 31.3 km (19.4 mi). The epicentre was located 2,230 km (1,390 mi; 1,200 nmi) southeast of Stanley, Falkland Islands.


 

Geography

The South Sandwich Islands (Spanish: Islas Sandwich del Sur) comprise 11 mostly volcanic islands (excluding tiny satellite islands and offshore rocks), with some active volcanoes.
They form an island arc running north-south in the region 56°18’–59°27’S, 26°23’–28°08’W, between about 350 and 500 mi (300 and 430 nmi; 560 and 800 km) southeast of South Georgia.

The northernmost of the South Sandwich Islands form the Traversay Islands and Candlemas Islands groups, while the southernmost makeup Southern Thule. The three largest islands – Saunders, Montagu, and Bristol – lie between the two. The Islands’ highest point is Mount Belinda (1,370 m or 4,495 ft) on Montagu Island.

The South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited, though a permanently manned Argentine research station was located on Thule Island from 1976 to 1982.
Automatic weather stations are on Thule Island and Zavodovski. To the northwest of Zavodovski Island is the Protector Shoal, a submarine volcano.
The South Sandwich Islands from north to south are Traveray Islands, Candlemas Islands, Central Island and Southern Thule.


 

Traversay Islands

The Traversay Islands are a group of three islands—Zavodovski, Leskov and Visokoi—at the northern end of the South Sandwich Islands.
The group was discovered in November of 1819 by a Russian expedition under Bellingshausen, who named them for Jean-Baptiste Prevost de Sansac, Marquis de Traversay (1754–1831), a French naval officer who joined the Russian navy in 1791, at the request of an émigré Frenchman in Russian service, admiral Nassau-Siegen.
He was Minister of Naval Affairs at Saint Petersburg, 1809–28, and chief promoter of Bellingshausen’s Antarctic voyage. The name was previously transliterated as Traverse because it was incorrectly thought that the man commemorated was a Russian.

Zavodovski Island

Zavodovski Island (56°18′S 27°34′W) lies 350 kilometres (217 mi) southeast of South Georgia Island. It is the northernmost of the South Sandwich Islands and the nearest to South Georgia.
The island is approximately 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) across with a peak elevation of 551 metres (1,808 feet) above sea level.
The stratovolcano Mount Asphyxia dominates the western side of the island while the eastern half is a low-lying lava plain. Mount Asphyxia is believed to be active with fresh lava reported in 1830 and numerous indications of activity since.
Approximately 50% of the island is composed of tephra. The island is home to around two million breeding chinstrap penguins, making it one of the world’s largest penguin colonies. Zavodovski Island featured in the initial part of BBC’s Planet Earth II natural history television series, narrated by David Attenborough and first shown in the UK on 6 November 2016.
The programme described in film life in the harsh environment for the 1.5 million Chinstrap penguins – the largest penguin colony in the world.

Visokoi Island

Visokoi Island (56°42′S 27°12′W), which lies to the southeast of Zavodovski, is 7.2 km (4.5 miles) long and 4.8 km (3 miles) wide, capped by Mount Hodson, a volcanic peak (1,005 m or 3,297 ft). The peak is named after Sir Arnold Weinholt Hodson, a governor of the Falkland Islands. Visokoi means “high”.
The island’s eastern tip, Point Irving, is named for the leader of a British exploratory and mapping expedition, Commander John J. Irving; the father of British writer and Holocaust denier, David Irving.

Leskov Island (56°40′S 28°10′W) is located to the west of the main arc of the South Sandwich Islands and is less than 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) long, and lies 48 km (30 mi) west of Visokoi.
It was named by Bellingshausen after the third lieutenant on the expedition ship Vostok. It is composed of andesitic rather than basaltic lava. The subduction zone forming the South Sandwich Trench lies to the east of the island arc.


 

Candlemas Islands

The Candlemas Islands are a group of small uninhabited islands lying at the northern part of the South Sandwich Islands, 23 miles (37 km) southeast of Visokoi Island. They consist of Candlemas Island and Vindication Island, divided by Nelson Channel, and numerous rocks.
The Candlemas Islands were discovered on February 2, 1775, by a British expedition under James Cook, who named them to commemorate the day of their discovery.

Candlemas Island

Candlemas Island is a small uninhabited island part of the Candlemas Islands in the South Sandwich Islands. It lies about 2 miles (3.2 km) from Vindication Island, separated by the Nelson Channel. On the northwest flank of the island is an active stratovolcano, Lucifer Hill, that showed signs of activity in 1911 and glowing lava flows during 1953–1954. Mount Andromeda and Mount Perseus are both glacier-covered peaks on the island. Mount Andromeda is the island’s highest point, with an elevation of 550 metres (1,804 ft).
The island’s southeast point is called Shrove Point (57°4′S 26°39′W). It was named by Discovery Investigations personnel on the Discovery II because they charted it on Shrove Tuesday, March 4, 1930.

Candlemas Island is the setting of a novel by Ian Cameron, The White Ship (1975), which tells of a disastrous expedition to the island in 1975 where members of the expedition must contend with ghosts of Spaniards shipwrecked on the island in 1818.

Vindication Island

Vindication Island is a small uninhabited island in the South Sandwich Islands. It lies about 2 miles (3.2 km) from Candlemas Island, separated by the Nelson Channel.
This small island is part of the Candlemas Islands subgroup of the South Sandwich Islands. The island’s highest point is Quadrant Peak at 430 m (1,411 ft), while the south-easternmost cape is Chinstrap Point. The island is mostly ice-free.

Vindication Island is the eroded remains of a former volcanic complex. Unlike neighbouring Candlemas Island, where there is volcanic activity, the volcano on Vindication has shown no sign of activity for over 10,000 years. Buddha Rock lies 0.3 nautical miles (0.6 km) west of Vindication Island.


 

Central Islands

The Central Islands consists of Saunders Island, Montagu Island and Bristol Island.

Saunders Island

Saunders Island is a crescent-shaped island 8.8 km (5.5 mi) long, lying between Candlemas Island and Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It is a volcanic island composed of an active stratovolcano, 990-metre (3,248 ft) Mount Michael.

Saunders Island was discovered in 1775 by Captain James Cook, who named it for Sir Charles Saunders, First Lord of the Admiralty. It was charted in greater detail by Bellingshausen in 1819, and in 1930 by DI personnel aboard Discovery II.
The island was surveyed in 1964 by HMS Protector after whose captain, Captain Martin S. Ollivant, the westernmost point, Ollivant Point, is named. Shackleton sometimes misspells the island’s name as “Sanders Island” in his book South.

Mount Michael is known to have erupted explosively in 1819, and has erupted repeatedly since 2000, most recently in 2005. The 700 m (2,297 ft) diameter summit crater contains a persistent lava lake, one of only eight in the world.

Montagu Island

Montagu Island is the largest of the South Sandwich Islands, located in the Scotia Sea off the coast of Antarctica. It is a part of the British Overseas Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It is located 60 km (37 mi) northeast from Bristol Island and 62 km (39 mi) south from Saunders Island.

The island was first sighted by James Cook in 1775 and named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and the First Lord of the British Admiralty at the time of its discovery.
The first recorded landing was made by the Norwegian whaler and explorer Carl Anton Larsen in 1908.

The desolate, uninhabited island measures approximately 12 by 10 kilometres (7.5 by 6.2 mi), with over 90% of its surface permanently covered in ice. The volcano Mount Belinda is its most notable geographic feature, rising to 1,370 metres (4,495 ft) above sea level. It was believed to be inactive prior to the sighting of low-level ash emission and suspected lava effusion in 2002 by the British Antarctic Survey.

In November 2005, satellite images revealed that an eruption of Mount Belinda had created a ninety-metre-wide (295 ft) molten river flowing to the northern shoreline of the island.
The event has expanded the area of the island by 0.2 square kilometres (0.1 square miles), and provided some of the first scientific observations of volcanic eruptions taking place underneath an ice sheet. As of 8 August 2009, imaging on Google Earth shows the volcano to be active with a noticeable plume and lava flow. The effects on the ice sheet are visible.

Bristol Island

Bristol Island is an 8 km (5-mile) long island lying midway between Montagu Island and Thule Island in the South Sandwich Islands. Its features include Harker Point, Fryer Point, Turmoil Point, Havfruen Peak, Trulla Bluff, Grindle Rock, Wilson Rock, Freezland Rock, Mount Sourabaya, Mount Darnley, and Forsters Passage.
Bristol Island is composed of several active volcanoes with eruptions reported in 1823, 1935, 1936, 1950, 1956 and 2016. It is the only landmass on the 59th parallel south.

It was discovered by a British expedition under James Cook in 1775 and named in honour of naval officer Augustus Hervey, 3rd Earl of Bristol. The first recorded landing was made by Carl Anton Larsen in 1908.

The island remains uninhabited and is administered by the United Kingdom as a British Overseas Territory as part of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands dependency.
Along with the rest of the South Sandwich Islands, it is claimed by Argentina in their South Atlantic Islands Department (Islas del Atlántico Sur) of Tierra del Fuego Province. Argentina did not attempt to occupy the island during the Falklands War.


 

Southern Thule

Southern Thule is a collection of the three southernmost islands in the South Sandwich Islands: Bellingshausen, Cook, and Thule (Morrell). The Southern Thule territory has been administered by the United Kingdom since 1908 and also claimed by Argentina since 1938.
The island group is barren, windswept, bitterly cold, and uninhabited. It has an extensive exclusive economic zone rich in marine living resources managed as part of the SGSSI fisheries.
The Admiralty’s Antarctic Pilot says that Southern Thule is part of an old sunken volcano, and is covered with ash and penguin guano. There are seals, petrels, and a bank of kelp just offshore, especially around a small inlet on Morrell called Ferguson Bay.

The island group was first sighted in 1775 by the expedition of James Cook, who named it Southern Thule because it seemed to lie at very much the extreme end of the world.
It was further explored in 1820 by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen who established that it consisted of three separate islands.

In November 1976, a party from the Argentine Air Force landed on Thule and constructed a small military base complete with barracks and a concrete helicopter landing pad. They set up a weather station, a radio station, and a flagpole from which the Argentine flag flew. The base was named Corbeta Uruguay.

In December 1976, the British discovered what had happened. The Argentine action became the subject of British protests, the first of them on 19 January 1977.
In November 1977, under the name Operation Journeyman, Britain sent a naval task force consisting of the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Dreadnought, two frigates, and two support vessels, in order to deter any threat to the Falklands, though ruled out using direct force to end the occupation of Southern Thule.
Arrangements to legitimise the station were discussed in 1978 but failed. More than a year went by before word of the occupation of Southern Thule leaked out to the public.

Argentina remained on Southern Thule until six days after the Falklands War had ended. On 20 June 1982, Royal Marines landed, and the Argentine garrison, outnumbered and outgunned, surrendered and relinquished its weapons.

After the surrender, Southern Thule was left unoccupied. Six months later, a passing British warship noticed that the Union Flag had been taken down from the flagpole and the flag of Argentina run-up in its place. The military was ordered to destroy all buildings on Southern Thule, leaving Corbeta Uruguay unfit for prolonged habitation. By Christmas 1982, the barrack block, mess room, and meteorological station had been destroyed.

Bellingshausen Island

Bellingshausen Island is one of the most southerly of the South Sandwich Islands, close to Thule Island and Cook Island, and forming part of the Southern Thule group. It is named after its discoverer, Baltic German-Russian Antarctic explorer Fabian von Bellingshausen (1778–1852).

The island is a basaltic-andesite stratovolcano, and the latest crater, about 152 metres (500 ft) across and 61 metres (200 ft) deep, formed explosively some time between 1968 and 1984.
The highest point is Basilisk Peak at 255 metres (837 ft). Its southeast point is called Isaacson Point; first charted by Discovery Investigations personnel on the Discovery II in 1930 and named for Ms. S.M. Isaacson, an assistant to the staff of the Discovery Committee.

Cook Island

Cook Island is the central and largest island of the Southern Thule island group, part of the South Sandwich Islands in the far south Atlantic Ocean. Southern Thule was discovered by a British expedition under Captain James Cook in 1775. Cook Island was named for Cook by a Russian expedition under Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, which explored the South Sandwich Islands in 1819–1820.

The island was surveyed in 1930 by Discovery Investigations (DI) personnel on the Discovery II, who charted and named many of its features. Other names were later applied by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee (UK-APC).

Cook Island measures about 6 by 3 km (3.7 by 1.9 mi) wide. It is heavily glaciated and uninhabited.[4] Its highest peak, Mount Harmer, rises to 1,115 m (3,658 ft). Mount Holdgate rises 960 ft (290 m) at the southeast end of the island.

Working clockwise from the northwest, the following points are found on the island’s coast. All were named by DI personnel unless otherwise specified:

  • Resolution Point is a point on the northwest side of the island, named for Cook’s vessel, HMS Resolution. Tilbrook Point is a conspicuous cliff forming the northwest point of Cook Island. Named by UK-APC for Peter J. Tilbrook, zoologist of the survey of the South Sandwich Islands from HMS Protector in 1964.
  • Reef Point is a point bounded by a small reef forming the west end of Cook Island, named descriptively.
  • Jeffries Point is on the central part of the south side of the island, named for Miss M.E. Jeffries, an assistant to the staff of the Discovery Committee.
  • Longton Point is a feature of sheer high rock cliffs alternating with steep icefalls, forming the southeast corner of the island. It was named by UK-APC for Royce E. Longton, botanist of the 1964 Protector survey. Swell Point is a small, narrow point on the island’s east coast, near its southeast extremity, 1.2 nmi (2.2 km) south of Resolution Point. It was named descriptively.

Cook Island is separated from Thule Island to the west by Douglas Strait. Tiny Bellingshausen Island is to the east, separated by Maurice Channel.

Thule Island

Thule Island, also called Morrell Island, is one of the southernmost of the South Sandwich Islands, part of the grouping known as Southern Thule. It is named, on account of its remote location, after the mythical land of Thule, said by ancient geographers to lie at the extreme end of the Earth. The alternative name Morrell Island is after Benjamin Morrell, an American explorer and whaling captain. It was espied by James Cook and his Resolution crew on 31 January 1775 during his attempt to find Terra Australis.

Thule Island is approximately triangular in shape and 5.5 square miles (14 km2) in area with a long, panhandle-like peninsula, 1.9 miles (3 km), extending to the southeast.
Steep slopes ascend to a 0.93 by 1.24 miles (1.5 by 2 km) summit caldera with the peak of Mount Larsen at 710 m (2,329 ft) above sea level.
Mount Larsen is named after the Antarctic explorer and whaler Carl Anton Larsen. Off the southeastern tip lies the small islet of Twitcher Rock, the southernmost land on Earth except for Antarctica and offshore islands considered part of Antarctica.

Thule Island is the westernmost of Southern Thule island group, which also encompasses Cook Island and Bellingshausen Island. It is thought that Thule and Cook may have been a larger single island in the past, and there is evidence for a submerged crater between the two. Steam from the summit crater lake and ash on the flank were reported in 1962. Volcanic heat keeps the crater on Thule Island free from ice. The peak elevation is 1,074 metres (3,525 ft).

Argentina, in order to assert its claim over the South Sandwich Islands, established the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the southeastern coast on January 25, 1955.
The station had to be evacuated in January 1956 because of the volcanic eruption of Mount Holdgate (so named in 1964) on the neighbouring Cook Island to the east.
In 1976 it established a military base on Thule Island called Corbeta Uruguay (Port Faraday) in the lee (southern east coast) of the island. The British discovered the presence of the Argentine base the same year but chose to pursue a diplomatic solution to the issue until 1982. The base was occupied by British forces in the aftermath of the Falklands War and eventually destroyed in 1982.

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