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Peter I Island

Peter I Island, Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

Approa­ching Peter I Island with heli­c­op­ter.

Peter I Island: in the cent­re of remo­ten­ess

In an Atlas of remo­te islands (Schal­an­sky 2006), Peter I Island mana­ged to get on to the most hono­rable page: the very last one. And the author’s cla­im expres­sed in the sub­tit­le of this book, fif­ty islands I have never been to and I will never get to, cer­tain­ly holds true for, well, essen­ti­al­ly ever­y­bo­dy. And why would anyo­ne want to go the­re? To be honest, if Peter I Island was clo­se to the coast of the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la, then it would be one island among­st hundreds, and nobo­dy would ever take noti­ce of an island so inac­ces­si­ble, which does not have much bey­ond its remo­te posi­ti­on.

Lage von Peter I Island, Bellingshausen Sea, Antarktis

Posi­ti­on of Peter I Island in the Bel­lings­hau­sen Sea, Ant­ar­c­ti­ca.

The nea­rest coast is about 420 kilo­me­t­res away, and this is Ells­worth Land in wes­tern Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, a com­ple­te­ly unin­ha­bi­ted coast, almost always hid­den behind hundreds of miles of den­se pack ice. It is 1850 kilo­me­t­res to South Ame­ri­ca – not to the pubs of Pun­ta Are­nas, but to Cape Horn.

Peter I Island – 1/3 – No 360°-Panorama, flash-play­er requi­red, on mobi­le devices for exam­p­le the → Puf­fin-Brow­ser.

Some histo­ry

It is easy to under­stand that essen­ti­al­ly nobo­dy is get­ting the­re. The first one who saw the island was an anony­mous crew mem­ber on board HIMS Vos­tok on Janu­ary 21, 1821, one of two ves­sels by the expe­di­ti­on of the Ger­man-Bal­tic sea­fa­rer Fabi­an Gott­lieb von Bel­lings­hau­sen sent out by Tsar Alex­an­der I and named by Bel­lings­hau­sen after Tsar Peter I (Peter the Gre­at) alt­hough he (Bel­lings­hau­sen, obvious­ly) did not get any clo­ser to it than about 15 nau­ti­cal miles due to ice.

Peter I Island, Bellingshausen Sea, Antarktis

Cape Eva, the nor­t­hern­most part of Peter I Island, vie­w­ing sou­the­ast.

It took more than a cen­tu­ry until a Nor­we­gi­an expe­di­ti­on led by Nils Lar­sen and Ola Olstad mana­ged to make the first landing on Febru­ary 02, 1929. Peter I Island was on this occa­si­on clai­med for Nor­way, a cla­im that was tur­ned into Nor­we­gi­an law in 1931 fol­lo­wed by the island’s sta­tus as depen­den­cy in 1933. Once the Ant­ar­c­tic Trea­ty came into force in 1961 – Nor­way had was one of the 1959 signa­to­ry mem­bers – all claims to any land south of 60 degrees remains inva­lid as long as the trea­ty remains valid.

In 1987, sci­en­tists from the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te spent a cou­ple of days on the island, and sin­ce then, some 10-15 tou­rist ships have been the­re, and if we assu­me that about half of them mana­ged to make some kind of brief landing, then it shouldn’t be too far off the truth. Peter I Island is far from all com­mon ship­ping rou­tes and is usual­ly only visi­ted on the rare occa­si­on of an Ant­ar­c­ti­ca semi-cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on bet­ween South Ame­ri­ca and New Zea­land.

Map of Peter I Island, Bellingshausen Sea, Antarktis

Peter I Island. Map © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te.

Some geo­gra­phy and natu­ral histo­ry

Peter I Island is 11 kilo­me­t­res wide (E-W) and 19 kilo­me­t­res long (N-S) and has a sur­face area of 156 squa­re kilo­me­t­res, which is lar­ger than Cam­bridge (115.65 squa­re kilo­me­t­res), but it has got fewer inha­bi­tants. To make up for this, the island has got some signi­fi­cant­ly hig­her moun­ta­ins, the hig­hest one being Lars Chris­ten­sen­top­pen (1640 met­res) and is almost com­ple­te­ly gla­cia­ted. All rocks are enti­re­ly of vol­ca­nic ori­gin, having a basal­tic che­mis­try. Tho­se few samples that have been dated vary bet­ween 100,000 and 350,000 years, but the geo­mor­pho­lo­gy of the hig­her parts sug­gest much more recent acti­vi­ty. The coast­li­ne is most­ly a 40 met­res high ice cliff. In tho­se few places whe­re the coast is ung­la­cia­ted, the ter­rain is chan­ging chick­ly due to mari­ne ero­si­on and rock­falls. The­re are only very few bea­ches poten­ti­al­ly sui­ta­ble for landings.

The­re are some small sea­bird colo­nies, main­ly with Ant­ar­c­tic ful­mars and Wilson’s storm pet­rels, but the hosti­le topo­gra­phy does not pro­vi­de much sui­ta­ble bree­ding space. Pen­gu­ins (Chin­straps and Ade­lies) and seals (Ele­fant, Cra­bea­ter and Wed­dell seals) are regu­lar visi­tors to the small, steep bea­ches in signi­fi­cant num­bers.

During a visit in Janu­ary 2013, the pre­sent aut­hor and owner of this web­site made a 360 degree pan­ora­ma on the ice cap near Cape Eva, the nor­t­hern end of the island. The landing was made by heli­c­op­ter at an alti­tu­de of about 100 met­res. The result are tech­ni­cal­ly not as good as one might want – it was still in the very ear­ly days of my care­er in pan­ora­ma pho­to­gra­phy – but it is the very first 360 degree pan­ora­ma ever taken on Peter I Island. Hoo­r­ay!

Peter I Island – 2/3 (360°-Panorama)

Fur­ther rea­ding:

  • Bul­ke­ley, R. (2013). The ear­ly histo­ry of Peter I Island. Polar Record 50(02): 213-216. The histo­ry of the first sight­ing of Peter I Island made during Bellingshausen’s expe­di­ti­on in 1821.
  • Head­land, R. (2007). Chan­ges at Peter I Øy. Polar Record 26: 204. Short descrip­ti­on of chan­ges of coas­tal mor­pho­lo­gy until 2006.
  • Schal­an­sky, J. (2006). Atlas der abge­le­ge­nen Inseln. Fünz­ig Inseln, auf denen ich nie war und nie­mals sein wer­de. Ham­burg, mare­ver­lag.
  • Short info web­site by the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te (Nor­we­gi­an).


last modification: 2014-05-19 · copyright: Rolf Stange