|For most cruise ships approaching the Antarctic
Peninsula, the first sighting of Antarctica will be the dark domes
of the South Shetland Islands rising above the horizon. They are often
enshrouded in fog, with only the promise of massive island-sized glaciers
and sheer rocky cliffs peaking out from underneath the clouds. They
received their name in 1820 after Captain William Smith claimed them
for Great Britain the previous year. The Antarctic Treaty has rendered
all claims neutral at this time, although several countries have bases
on the South Shetlands Islands.
First glimpse of Antarctica
Strong winds howling between the islands and rocky domes with precipitous
rocky cliffs typify the welcome of many to Antarctica.
Last green before the South Pole
Jorge Island, Aitcho Island
The beautiful Aitcho Islands offer a colourful respite from the
natural grey, white and blue of the Antarctic Peninsula The Aitcho
Islands received their name in 1935 by the Discovery II expedition,
in honour of the Admiralty's Hydrographic Officer ('HO').
The sub-Antarctic landscape of these little rocky islands is covered
in yellow, green and orange lichens and mosses. Gentoo and Chinstrap
Penguins are scattered across the rockier parts, and fur seals pull
up on the large rocky beaches.
Whalers Bay, Deception Island
Deception Island is a testimony to the volcanic origin of the South
Shetland Islands. Although most of the islands formed between 60
and 200 million years ago in a fury of volcanic eruptions and massive
intrusions, Deception Island formed less than 5 million years ago
as a result of the Bransfield Strait opening up.
Deception Island's caldera is a natural harbour which has been
refuge for many boats throughout Antarctic History. However, its
violent geologic record has destroyed a few bases over the last
century, including the British Base in Whalers Bay in 1969.
Relicts from a past we wish we could forget
Before countries began setting up more peaceful operations in Antarctica,
Deception Island was a popular destination for whalers. Relicts
dating back to the whaling days litter the beaches of Deception
Island. Fortunately nowadays, they just provide some refuge to the
local wildlife and curiosity features for tourists.
Hannah Point, Livingston Island
Hannah Point on Livingston Island was also a place frequented by
whalers in the early part of last century. Today, whale bones litter
the beaches but the penguins ignore them, us and the bone's connection
Ancient fragments of a warmer world
Near Hannah Point, Livingston Island
About 1.5km away from Hannah Point, there are also relict fossils
of a different kind! Despite pillaging by people over years, a treasure
trove of fossilised leaves, tree trunks and branches dating back
over 25 million years have been stockpiled for tourists to now admire.
In this photo, a preserved impression of a fern leaf is just beneath
the camera lens cap (the old geologist instinct was at work here,
ensuring a sense of scale...)
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