South Shetland Islands
The Dutchman Dirck Gerritsz in 1599, or the Spaniard Gabriel de Castilla in 1603 traveled through these Antarctic lands, both of them supposedly sailing south of the Drake Passage in the South Shetland Islands area.
In 1818 Juan Pedro de Aguirre obtained permission from the Buenos Aires authorities to install an establishment for sealing on "some of the uninhabited islands near the South Pole".
Captain William Smith in the British merchant brig Williams, while sailing to Valparaiso, Chile in 1819 deviated from his route south of Cape Horn, and on 19 February sighted Williams Point, the northeast extremity of Livingston Island.
Smith revisited the South Shetlands, landed on King George Island on 16 October 1819, and claimed possession for Britain.
Thus Livingston Island became the first land ever discovered south of the 60th southern latitude.
Meanwhile, the Spanish Navy ship San Telmo sank in September 1819 whilst trying to go through the Drake Passage. Parts of her supposed wreckage were found months later by sealers on the north coast of Livingston Island.
In December 1819 - January 1820 the islands were surveyed and mapped by Lieutenant Edward Bransfield onboard the Williams, with the ship chartered by the Royal Navy.
Already on 15 November 1819 the American agent in Valparaiso, Jeremy Robinson informed the US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Smith's discovery and Bransfield's forthcoming mission, and suggested the dispatch of a US government ship to explore the islands where "new sources of wealth, power and happiness would be disclosed and science itself be benefited thereby."
The discovery of the islands attracted British and American sealers.
The first sealing ship to operate in the area was the brig Espirito Santo chartered by British merchants in Buenos Aires.
The ship arrived at Rugged Island off Livingston Island, where its British crew landed on Christmas Day 1819, and claimed the islands for King George III; a narrative of the events was published by the brig's master Joseph Herring in the July 1820 edition of the Imperial Magazine.
The Espirito Santo was followed from the Falkland Islands by the American brig Hersilia commanded by Captain James Sheffield (with second mate Nathaniel Palmer), the first American sealer in the S outh Shetlands.
Having circumnavigated the Antarctic continent, the Russian Antarctic expedition of Fabian von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev arrived to the South Shetlands in January 1821.
The Russians surveyed the islands and named them, landing on both King George Island and Elephant Island.
While sailing between Deception and Livingston islands, Bellingshausen was visited by Nathaniel Palmer, master of the American brig Hero, who informed him of the activities of dozens of American and British sealing ships in the area.
The name "New South Britain" was used briefly, but was soon changed to South Shetland Islands (in reference to the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland).
The name South Shetland Islands is now established in international usage.
Both sets of islands actually lie at a similar distance from the South Pole and North Pole respectively, but the South Shetlands are much colder.
Seal hunting and whaling took place on the islands in the 19th and early 20th century.
From 1908 the islands were governed as part of the Falkland Islands Dependency but the islands have only been occupied since the establishment of a scientific research station in 1944.
The archipelago, together with the nearby Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia, is an increasingly popular tourist destination during the austral summer.
As a group of islands, the South Shetland Islands are located at [show location on an interactive map] 62°0'S 58°0'W /62°S 58°W/-62; -58Coordinates: 62°0'S 58°0'W /62°S 58°W/-62; -58.
They fall within the region 61° 00'-63° 37' South, 53° 83'-62° 83' West.
The islands lie 1200km south of the Falkland Islands and slightly more than 150km north of the nearest point of the Antarctic continent, Graham Land.
The South Shetlands consist of 11 major islands and several minor ones, totaling 3687 square kilometres of land area. Between 80 and 90 percent of the land area is permanently glaciated.
The highest point on the island chain is Mount Irving on Clarence Island at 2300 metres above sea level.
The South Shetland Islands extend about 280 miles from Smith Island and Snow Island in the west-southwest to Elephant Island and Clarence Island in the east-northeast.
The islands are the same distance from the equator as the Faroe islands in the north Atlantic but their proximity to Antarctica means that they have a much colder climate.
The sea around the islands is closed by ice from early April to early December and the monthly average temperature is below 0°C for eight months of the year (April to November).
The islands have experienced measurable glacier retreat in recent years but despite this they remain more than 80% snow and ice covered throughout the summer.
The climate is cloudy and humid all year round and very strong westerly winds blow at all seasons. Some of the sunniest weather is associated with outbreaks of very cold weather from the south in late winter and spring.
Mean summer temperatures are only about 1.5°C and those in winter are about -5°C.
The effect of the cold ocean tends to keep summer temperatures low and winter temperatures from falling as low as they do inland to the south.
From north to south the main and some minor islands of the South Shetlands are:
Several nations maintain research stations on the Islands:
For more information about South Shetland Islands see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This page was retrieved and condensed from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Shetland_Islands) see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, April 2009.
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).
This information was correct in April 2009. E. & O.E.
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