South Sandwich Islands

South Sandwich Islands Map
South Sandwich Islands – Click to enlarge

The South Sandwich Islands is part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, was formed in 1985.
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 through 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 1978, 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) SSE 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) 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 south-southeast of Bristol Island, South Sandwich Islands, at a depth of 31.3 km. The epicenter was located 2230 km southeast of Stanley, Falkland Islands.



South Sandwich Islands MapThe South Sandwich Islands 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 miles (560 km) and 500 miles (800 km) southeast of South Georgia.

The northernmost of the South Sandwich Islands form the Traversay Islands and Candlemas Islands groups, while the southernmost make up 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.

Thule, Cook, Bristol, Montagu, Visokoi, Saunders and Candlemas are almost 80% covered by glaciers, and the remaining four have hardly any at all. Even though these islands are more northerly than the South Shetlands (or even the South Orkneys), they have a much colder climate (due to the cold ocean current coming from the Weddell Sea).
The South Sandwich Islands are a volcanic island arc caused by the subduction of the South American Plate beneath the South Sandwich Plate.
The South Sandwich plate is one of the smallest geologic plates and is created at the South Sandwich spreading center. This small plate is less than 8 million years old and moves to the east at about 7 cm per year. The volcanic arc is younger than 5 million years.


Candlemas Islands

Candlemas Island
Candlemas Island

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 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).

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.
Although Vindication has a volcano, there has been no sign of activity for over 10,000 years. The island’s highest point is Quadrant Peak (430 m or 1,411 ft), while the south-easternmost cape is Chinstrap Point. The island is mostly ice free.

Nelson Channel
Nelson Channel is a navigable channel between Candlemas and Vindication Islands in Candlemas Islands group, in the South Sandwich Islands. First roughly charted by Captain James Cook, discoverer of these islands in 1775.
Recharted in 1930 by DI personnel on the Discovery II, who gave the name “Nelson Strait” for Lieutenant Andrew Laidlaw Nelson, Royal Navy Reserve, chief officer and navigator of the ship. The name has been amended to avoid duplication with Nelson Strait in the South Shetland Islands.


Montagu Island

Montagu Island
Montagu Island

Montagu Island is the largest of the South Sandwich Islands, located in the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica. It is a part of the British Overseas Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and has the only active volcano under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. It is located 60 km northeast from Bristol Island and 62 km south from Saunders Island.[1]

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 British-Norwegian arctic 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 90-metre (295 ft) wide molten river flowing to the northern shoreline of the island. The event has expanded the area of the island by 0.2 square kilometres (0.077 sq mi), and provided some of the first scientific observations of volcanic eruptions taking place underneath an ice sheet.


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 part of the United Kingdom. It is a volcanic island composed of an active stratovolcano, 990-metre (3,248 ft) Mount Michael, (Named by Commander William Melvin Carey of the Discovery II, after his son Michael Carey).
It 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 is thought to possibly contain an active lava lake, one of only a handful in the world.

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 on the 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 it as “Sanders Island” in his book South.


Southern Thule

Southern Thule Map
Southern Thule – Click to enlarge

Southern Thule is a collection of the three southernmost islands in the South Sandwich Islands: Bellingshausen, Cook, and Thule (Morrell).
The Southern Thule territory is claimed by Argentina and the United Kingdom. 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 Bellingshausen who established that it consisted of three separate islands.
Argentine occupation 1976–82

In November 1976, a party from the Argentine Air Force landed on Thule, and, without informing the British Government, 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. All this was done at the direction of the Argentine Government in order to back up their territorial claim to the South Sandwich Islands. The base was named Corbeta Uruguay.

South Sandwich Islands MapIn December 1976 the British discovered what had happened. The Argentine action became the subject of official British protests, the first of them on 19 January 1977.
In November 1977, under the name Operation Journeyman, then Prime Minister James Callaghan 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, but 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.
Callaghan ruled out sending in the Royal Marines to end the occupation, preferring diplomacy.

The Argentine presence remained on Southern Thule until six days after the Falklands War had ended. On 20 June 1982, several British warships landed Royal Marines and the Argentine garrison, outnumbered and outgunned, surrendered and handed over their weapons.

After the surrender, Southern Thule was left deserted, but six months later, a passing British warship noticed that the Union Flag had been taken down from the flagpole at the deserted base and the flag of Argentina run up in its place. When word of this reached London, 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 were reduced to a pile of concrete rubble, leaving only a small hut stocked with emergency supplies and the flagpole, which was last seen flying the Union Flag.


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 500 feet (152 metres) across and 200 feet (61 metres) deep, formed explosively some time between 1968 and 1984. Highest point is Basilisk Peak (255 m).

Cook Island
Cook Island is the central and largest island of Southern Thule, 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. The island was named for Cook by a Russian expedition under Bellingshausen, which explored the South Sandwich Islands in 1819–20.

Cook Island measures about 6 by 3 km (3.7 by 1.9 mi) wide. It is heavily glaciated and uninhabited. Its highest peak, Mount Harmer, rises to 1,115 m (3,658 ft).

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, US explorer and whaling captain. Viewed by James Cook and his Resolution crew on 31 January 1775 in his attempt to find Terra Australis.

Thule Island is approximately triangular in shape and 5.5 square miles (14 km2) in area with a 3 km (1.9 mi) long, panhandle-like peninsula extending to the southeast. Steep slopes ascend to a 1.5 by 2 km (0.93 by 1.24 mi) 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 lies close to 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 was reported in 1962. Volcanic heat keeps the crater on Thule Island free from ice. The peak elevation is 3,525 feet (1,074 m).


Traversay Islands

Zavodoski Island
Zavodoski Island

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 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.

Leskov Island
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.

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.

Visokoi Island
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 commander of a British exploratory and mapping expedition, John J. Irving. Cmdr. Irving is the father of British writer David Irving.