Antarctic Polar Regions | The Continent and its Islands

Forgotten Islands...

South Georgia, South Sandwich, the South Orkneys, South Shetland, Tristan da Cuhna, the Kerguelen archipelago, the Crozet Islands, the Campbell Islands, Antipodes, Bounty, Chatham, Macquarie Island, etc, all names that conjure up the great eras of exploration in the Southern ocean, when navigators sent by their respective governments or by private trading companies performed rival deeds of courage or stealth as they pushed their ships ever-southwards to capture the greatest number of prizes possible.

We may know the exact number of sub-Antarctic islands, but we cannot be sure of how many islands are attached to the continent by an ice-shelf. Is estimated, however, that the surface area of these archipelagoes lost in the Southern ocean can be no greater than 40,000 square kilometres. Most of them are of recent volcanic origin; so they are even uneven in terms of relief and the coastline is often inaccessible. If these islands are no doubt the most godforsaken on the globe, it is because they have a harsh climate, with constant cold and damp winds - a distinction should be made here between the islands scattered across the Southern ocean and those stuck to the continent, which naturally enjoy the same climate as the neighbouring coastline.

Periodically, however, one or other of them makes the news; this was the case in January 1995, when an immense platform of floating ice broke away from the north-east of the Antarctic peninsula between the coast and Ross Island at Prince Gustav Straits. In a tense atmosphere of endless discussions about global warming being to blame for this breakaway, more practical men announced with some emotion that for the first time ever, Ross Island could be circumnavigated.

This was because, in the space of a few short weeks, a whole part of the very contours of the continent has been altered. The news was considered as a major event in the world of Antarctic research.