The Kerguelen Islands (/kərˈɡeɪlən/ or /ˈkɜːrɡələn/; in French commonly Îles Kerguelen but officially Archipel des Kerguelen, pronounced [kɛʁɡelɛn]), also known as the Desolation Islands (Îles de la Désolation in French), are a group of islands in the Antarctic constituting one of the two exposed parts of the Kerguelen Plateau, a large igneous province mostly submerged by the southern Indian Ocean. They are among the most isolated places on Earth, located 450 km (280 mi) northwest of the uninhabited Heard Island and McDonald Islands and more than 3,300 km (2,100 mi) from Madagascar, the nearest populated location (excluding the Alfred Faure scientific station in Île de la Possession, about 1,340 km, 830 mi from there, and the non-permanent station located in Île Amsterdam, 1,440 km, 890 mi away). The islands, along with Adélie Land, the Crozet Islands, Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands, and France's Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean, are part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and are administered as a separate district.
The main island, Grande Terre, is 6,675 km2 (2,577 sq mi) in area and is surrounded by a further 300 smaller islands and islets, forming an archipelago of 7,215 km2 (2,786 sq mi). The climate is raw and chilly with frequent high winds throughout the year. The surrounding seas are generally rough and they remain ice-free year-round. There are no indigenous inhabitants, but France maintains a permanent presence of 45 to 100 soldiers, scientists, engineers and researchers. There are no airports on the islands, so all travel and transport from the outside world is conducted by ship.
Location of the Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Ocean
Map of the Kerguelen Islands
|Government||District of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands|
• Head of District
|French overseas territory|
|7,215 km2 (2,786 sq mi)|
Kerguelen Islands appear as the "Ile de Nachtegal" on Philippe Buache's map from 1754 before the island was officially discovered in 1772. The Buache map has the title Carte des Terres Australes comprises entre le Tropique du Capricorne et le Pôle Antarctique où se voyent les nouvelles découvertes faites en 1739 au Sud du Cap de Bonne Esperance ('Map of the Southern Lands contained between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Pole, where the new discoveries made in 1739 to the south of the Cape of Good Hope may be seen'). It is possible this early name was after Abel Tasman's ship De Zeeuwsche Nachtegaal. On the Buache map, "Ile de Nachtegal" is located at 43°S, 72°E, about 6 degrees north and 2 degrees east of the accepted location of Grande Terre.
The islands were officially discovered by the French navigator Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec on 12 February 1772. The next day Charles de Boisguehenneuc landed and claimed the island for the French crown. Yves de Kerguelen organised a second expedition in 1773 and arrived at the "baie de l'Oiseau" by December of the same year. On 6 January 1774 he commanded his lieutenant, Henri Pascal de Rochegude, to leave a message notifying any passers-by of the two passages and of the French claim to the islands. Thereafter, a number of expeditions briefly visited the islands, including that of Captain James Cook in December 1776 during his third voyage, who verified and confirmed the passage of de Kerguelen by discovering and annotating the message left by the French navigator.
Soon after their discovery, the archipelago was regularly visited by whalers and sealers (mostly British, American and Norwegian) who hunted the resident populations of whales and seals to the point of near extinction, including fur seals in the 18th century and elephant seals in the 19th century. The sealing era lasted from 1781 to 1922 during which time 284 sealing visits are recorded, nine of which ended when the vessel was wrecked. Modern industrial sealing, associated with whaling stations, occurred intermittently between 1908 and 1956. Since the end of the whaling and sealing era, most of the islands' species have been able to increase their population again. Relics of the sealing period include trypots, hut ruins, graves and inscriptions.
In 1800, Hillsborough spent eight months sealing and whaling around the islands. During this time Captain Robert Rhodes, her master, prepared a chart of the islands. That vessel returned to London in April 1801 with 450 tuns of sea elephant oil.
In 1825, the British sealer John Nunn and three crew members from Favourite were shipwrecked on Kerguelen until they were rescued in 1827 by Captain Alexander Distant during his hunting campaign.
The Australian James Kerguelen Robinson (1859–1914) was the first human born south of the Antarctic Convergence, on board the sealing ship Offley in Gulf of Morbihan (Royal Sound then), Kerguelen Island on 11 March 1859.
For the 1874 transit of Venus, George Biddell Airy at the Royal Observatory of the UK organised and equipped five expeditions to different parts of the world. Three of these were sent to the Kerguelen Islands. The Reverend Stephen Joseph Perry led the British expeditions to the Kerguelen Islands. He set up his main observation station at Observatory Bay and two auxiliary stations, one at Thumb Peak led by Sommerville Goodridge, and the second at Supply Bay led by Cyril Corbet. Observatory Bay was also used by the German Antarctic Expedition led by Erich Dagobert von Drygalski in 1902–03. In January 2007, an archaeological excavation of this site was carried out.
In 1877 the French started a coal mining operation; however, this was abandoned soon after.
In response to German operations in the area, France reasserted its sovereignty on the Kerguelen Islands, along with the islands of Amsterdam and St Paul, and the Crozet archipelago in 1893, and decided to administer these territories from Madagascar in 1924 (in addition to that portion of Antarctica claimed by France and known as Adélie Land; as with all Antarctic territorial claims, France's possession on the continent is held in abeyance until a new international treaty is ratified that defines each claimant's rights and obligations).
The German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis called at Kerguelen during December 1940. During their stay the crew performed maintenance and replenished their water supplies. This ship's first fatality of the war occurred when a sailor, Bernhard Herrmann, fell while painting the funnel. He is buried in what is sometimes referred to as "the most southerly German war grave" of World War II.
Until 1955, the Kerguelen Islands were administratively part of the French Colony of Madagascar and Dependencies. That same year they collectively became known as Les Terres australes et antarctiques françaises (French Southern and Antarctic Lands) and were administratively part of the French Départment d'outre-mer de la Réunion. In 2004 they were permanently transformed into their own entity (keeping the same name) but having inherited another group of five very remote tropical islands, les îles Éparses, which are also owned by France and are dispersed widely throughout the southern Indian Ocean.
The main island of the archipelago is called La Grande Terre. It measures 150 km (93 mi) east to west and 120 km (75 mi) north to south.
Port-aux-Français, a scientific base, is along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Morbihan on La Grande Terre. Facilities there include scientific-research buildings, a satellite tracking station, dormitories, a hospital, a library, a gymnasium, a pub, and the chapel of Notre-Dame des Vents.
The highest point is Mont Ross in the Gallieni Massif, which rises along the southern coast of the island and has an elevation of 1,850 metres (6,070 ft). The Cook Ice Cap (French: Calotte Glaciaire Cook), France's largest glacier with an area of about 403 km2 (156 sq mi), lies on the west-central part of the island. Overall, the glaciers of the Kerguelen Islands cover just over 500 km2 (190 sq mi). Grande Terre has also numerous bays, inlets, fjords, and coves, as well as several peninsulas and promontories. The most important ones are listed below:
There are also a number of notable localities, all on La Grande Terre (see also the main map):
From 1968 to 1981, a site just east of Port-aux-Français was a launching site for sounding rockets, some for French (Dragon rockets), American (Arcas) or French-Soviet (Eridans) surveys, but at the end mainly for a Soviet program (M-100).
The following is a list of the most important adjacent islands:
Principal activities on the Kerguelen Islands focus on scientific research – mostly earth sciences and biology.
Since 1992, the French Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) has operated a satellite and rocket tracking station which is located 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) east of Port-aux-Français. CNES needed a tracking station in the Southern Hemisphere, and the French government required that it be located on French territory, rather than in a populated, but foreign, place like Australia or New Zealand.
Agricultural activities were limited until 2007 to raising sheep (about 3,500 Bizet sheep – a breed of sheep that is rare in mainland France) on Longue Island for consumption by the occupants of the base, as well as small quantities of vegetables in a greenhouse within the immediate vicinity of the main French base. There are also feral rabbits and sheep that can be hunted, as well as wild birds.
There are also five fishing boats and vessels, owned by fishermen on Réunion Island (a department of France about 3,500 km (2,200 mi) to the north) who are licensed to fish within the archipelago's exclusive economic zone.
The Kerguelen islands form an emerged part of the submerged Kerguelen Plateau, which has a total area nearing 2.2 million km2 (0.85 million sq mi). The plateau was built by volcanic eruptions associated with the Kerguelen hotspot, and now lies on the Antarctic plate.
The major part of the volcanic formations visible on the islands is characteristic of an effusive volcanism, which caused a trap rock formation to start emerging above the level of the ocean 35 million years ago. The accumulation is of a considerable amount; basalt flows, each with a thickness of three to ten metres, stacked on top of each other, sometimes up to a depth of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft). This form of volcanism creates a monumental relief shaped as stairs of pyramids.
Other forms of volcanism are present locally, such as the strombolian volcano Mont Ross, and the volcano-plutonic complex on the Rallier du Baty peninsula. Various veins and extrusions of lava such as trachytes, trachyphonolites and phonolites are common all over the islands.
No eruptive activity has been recorded in historic times, but some fumaroles are still active in the South-West of the Grande-Terre island.
Glaciation caused the depression and tipping phenomena which created the gulfs at the north and east of the archipelago. Erosion caused by the glacial and fluvial activity carved out the valleys and fjords; erosion also created conglomerate detrital complexes, and the plain of the Courbet Peninsula.
The islands are part of a submerged microcontinent called the Kerguelen sub-continent. The microcontinent emerged substantially above sea level for three periods between 100 million years ago and 20 million years ago. The so-called Kerguelen sub-continent may have had tropical flora and fauna about 50 million years ago. The Kerguelen sub-continent finally sank 20 million years ago and is now one to two kilometres (0.6 to 1.2 mi) below sea level. Kerguelen's sedimentary rocks are similar to ones found in Australia and India, indicating they were all once connected. Scientists hope that studying the Kerguelen sub-continent will help them discover how Australia, India, and Antarctica broke apart.
Kerguelen's climate is oceanic, cold and extremely windswept. Under the Köppen climate classification, Kerguelen's climate is considered to be an ET or tundra climate, which is technically a form of polar climate, as the average temperature in the warmest month is below 10 °C (50 °F). Comparable climates include the Aleutian Islands, Campbell Island (New Zealand), Falkland Islands, Iceland, northern Kamchatka Peninsula, Labrador and Wollaston Islands.
All climate readings come from the Port-aux-Français base, which has one of the more favourable climates in Kerguelen due to its proximity to the coast and its location in a gulf sheltered from the wind.
The average annual temperature is 4.9 °C (40.8 °F) with an annual range of around 6 °C (11 °F). The warmest months of the year include January and February, with average temperatures between 7.8 and 8.2 °C (46.0 and 46.8 °F). The coldest month of the year is August with an average temperature of 2.1 °C (35.8 °F). Annual high temperatures rarely surpass 20 °C (68 °F), while temperatures in winter have never been recorded below −10 °C (14 °F) at sea level.
Kerguelen receives frequent precipitation, with snow throughout the year as well as rain. Port-aux-Français receives a modest amount of precipitation (708 mm (27.9 in) per year) compared to the west coast which receives an estimated three times as much precipitation per year.
The mountains are frequently covered in snow but can thaw very quickly in rain. Over the course of several decades, many permanent glaciers have shown signs of retreat, with some smaller ones having disappeared completely.
The west coast receives almost continuous wind at an average speed of 35 km/h (22 mph), due to the islands' location in between the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties. Wind speeds of 150 km/h (93 mph) are common and can even reach 200 km/h (120 mph).
Waves up to 12–15 m (39–49 ft) high are common, but there are many sheltered places where ships can dock.
The islands are part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion that includes several subantarctic islands. Plant life is mainly limited to grasses, mosses and lichens, although the islands are also known for the indigenous, edible Kerguelen cabbage, a good source of vitamin C to mariners. The main indigenous animals are insects along with large populations of ocean-going seabirds, seals and penguins.
The wildlife is particularly vulnerable to introduced species and one particular problem has been cats. The main island is the home of a well-established feral cat population, descended from ships' cats. They survive on sea birds and the feral rabbits that were introduced to the islands. There are also populations of wild sheep (Ovis orientalis orientalis) and reindeer.
In the 1950s and 1960s, French geologist Edgar Albert de la Rue began to introduce several species of salmonids. Of the seven species introduced, only brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis and brown trout Salmo trutta survived to establish wild populations.
The islands appear in a number of fictional works. The title character in Edgar Allan Poe's 1838 novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, visits the islands. French writer Jules Verne's 1897 novel An Antarctic Mystery offers a follow up to Poe's book, and revisits the Kerguelen Islands. The 1874 short story "The Tachypomp" by Edward Page Mitchell tells of a hole through the center of the Earth with one end in the United States and the other in "Kerguellen's Land" (which is roughly antipodal to the United States and Canada ). In Kipling's poem "McAndrew's Hymn" – about a ship's engineer – there are the lines: "Fra' Cape Town east to Wellington – ye need an engineer. Fail there – ye've time to weld your shaft – ay, eat it, ere ye're spoke, Or make Kerguelen under sail – three jiggers burned wi' smoke!"
Henry De Vere Stacpoole set his 1919 novel The Beach of Dreams on the islands. The Kerguelen Islands were the setting for a post-Second World War confrontation between W. E. Johns's recurring hero, Biggles and the crew of a gold bullion-bearing German U-boat, in the 1948 novel Biggles' Second Case. The fifth book in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series, published in 1978, is entitled Desolation Island.
French author Jean-Paul Kauffmann produced a non-fiction account of his 1991 journey to the islands, titled "The Arch of Kerguelen: Voyage to the Islands of Desolation".
In 2000 British journalist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris spent four months on Kerguelen, staying with the researchers at Port-aux-Français. A series of articles were published in The Times in which Parris charted his visit, and a documentary "To The Ends of Earth: Dreaming on Desolation Island" was produced for UK television, which aired on Channel 4.
Pronunciation: /kəˈɡeɪlən/ /ˈkəːɡələn/, respectively kər-GAY-lən or KUR-gə-lən.
Acaena magellanica, commonly called buzzy burr or greater burnet, is a species of flowering plant whose range includes the southern tip of South America and many subantarctic islands.An Antarctic Mystery
An Antarctic Mystery (French: Le Sphinx des glaces, The Sphinx of the Ice Fields) is a two-volume novel by Jules Verne. Written in 1897, it is a response to Edgar Allan Poe's 1838 novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. It follows the adventures of the narrator and his journey from the Kerguelen Islands aboard Halbrane.
Neither Poe nor Verne had actually visited the remote Kerguelen Islands, located in the south Indian Ocean, but their works are some of the few literary (as opposed to exploratory) references to the archipelago.Antarctic realm
The Antarctical realm is one of eight terrestrial biogeographic realms. The ecosystem includes Antarctica and several island groups in the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The continent of Antarctica is so cold and dry that it has supported only 2 vascular plants for millions of years, and its flora presently consists of around 250 lichens, 100 mosses, 25-30 liverworts, and around 700 terrestrial and aquatic algal species, which live on the areas of exposed rock and soil around the shore of the continent. Antarctica's two flowering plant species, the Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis), are found on the northern and western parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is also home to a diversity of animal life, including penguins, seals, and whales.
Several Antarctic island groups are considered part of the Antarctica realm, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands, Bouvet Island, the Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands, Heard Island, the Kerguelen Islands, and the McDonald Islands. These islands have a somewhat milder climate than Antarctica proper, and support a greater diversity of tundra plants, although they are all too windy and cold to support trees.
Antarctic krill is the keystone species of the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean, and is an important food organism for whales, seals, leopard seals, fur seals, crabeater seals, squid, icefish, penguins, albatrosses and many other birds. The ocean there is so full of phytoplankton because around the ice continent water rises from the depths to the light flooded surface, bringing nutrients from all oceans back to the photic zone.
On August 20, 2014, scientists confirmed the existence of microorganisms living 800 metres (2,600 feet) below the ice of Antarctica.Azorella selago
Azorella selago is a species of cushion plant native to the sub-Antarctic islands of the Southern Ocean, including the Crozet Islands, the Possession Islands, the Heard Island and McDonald Islands, the Kerguelen Islands, and the Prince Edward Islands. The closely related Azorella macquariensis, which is endemic to Macquarie Island, was split from it taxonomically in 1989. A. selago is often a keystone species where it occurs and is well studied for its contribution to its native ecosystems.Commerson's dolphin
Commerson's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii), also referred to by the common names jacobita, skunk dolphin, piebald dolphin or panda dolphin, is a small oceanic dolphin of the genus Cephalorhynchus. Commerson's dolphin has two geographically-isolated but locally-common subspecies. The principal subspecies, C.c.commersonii, has sharply-delineated black-and-white patterning and is found around the tip of South America. The secondary subspecies, C.c.kerguelenensis, is larger than C.c.commersonii, has a less-sharply delineated dark and light grey patterning with a white ventral band, and is found around the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean.
The dolphin is named after French naturalist Dr Philibert Commerson, who first described them in 1767 after sighting them in the Strait of Magellan.Courbet Peninsula
The Courbet Peninsula (French: Péninsule Courbet) is a peninsula in northeastern Grande Terre Island, the main island of the subantarctic Kerguelen Archipelago, Southern Indian Ocean. In the south of the peninsula is Port-aux-Français, the principal station of the archipelago.Flora and fauna of the Kerguelen Islands
The Kerguelen Islands are part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion that includes several subantarctic islands. In this cold climate plant life is mainly limited to grasses, mosses and lichens, although the islands are also known for the indigenous edible Kerguelen cabbage. The islands are at the Antarctic convergence, where cold water moving up from the Antarctic mixes with the warmer water of the Indian Ocean. As a consequence, marine mammals, especially seals, and seabirds and penguins are numerous.Golfe du Morbihan (Kerguelen)
The Golfe du Morbihan (Gulf of Morbihan) is a bay on the eastern coast of Grande Terre, the largest of the Kerguelen islands. It forms a deep and broad notch in the central section of the island.Kerguelen Plateau
The Kerguelen Plateau ( , ) is an oceanic plateau and a large igneous province (LIP) located on the Antarctic Plate, in the southern Indian Ocean. It is also a microcontinent and submerged continent. It is about 3,000 km (1,900 mi) to the southwest of Australia and is nearly three times the size of Japan. The plateau extends for more than 2,200 km (1,400 mi) in a northwest–southeast direction and lies in deep water.
The plateau was produced by the Kerguelen hotspot, starting with or following the breakup of Gondwana about 130 million years ago. A small portion of the plateau breaks sea level, forming the Kerguelen Islands (a French territory) plus the Heard and McDonald Islands (an Australian territory). Intermittent volcanism continues on the Heard and McDonald Islands.Kerguelen hotspot
The Kerguelen hotspot is a volcanic hotspot at the Kerguelen Plateau in the Southern Indian Ocean. The Kerguelen hotspot has produced basaltic lava for about 130 million years and has also produced the Kerguelen Islands, Heard Island, the McDonald Islands, and the Ninety East Ridge.Mr Meeson's Will
Mr Meeson's Will is an 1888 novel by H. Rider Haggard. It was based on a well known anecdote of the time. The plot concerns a marooned man's will tattooed on the back of a woman.Port-aux-Français
Port-aux-Français is the capital settlement of the Kerguelen Islands, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, in the south Indian Ocean. The port station is located on the Gulf of Morbihan.Pringlea
Pringlea antiscorbutica, commonly known as Kerguelen cabbage, is a flowering plant and the sole member of the monotypic genus Pringlea in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Its common name comes from the archipelago of its discovery, the Kerguelen Islands, and its generic name derives from Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society at the time of its discovery by Captain James Cook's Surgeon, William Anderson in 1776.Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists
The Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists is a sub-entity of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which coordinates the Church's activities in the southern portion of Africa, which include the nations of Angola, Ascension Island, Botswana, Comoro Islands, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Réunion, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe; as well as St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha, territories of the United Kingdom, and the Kerguelen Islands, territory of France. Its headquarters is in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Division membership as of June 30, 2018 is 3,969,099.Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec
Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec (13 February 1734 – 3 March 1797) was a French explorer and naval officer.Île Foch
Île Foch is one of the Kerguelen Islands situated near to the north coast of Grand Terre, the principal island.
It is separated from this main island only by a narrow sea arm, the Tucker strait. It borders Île Saint-Lanne Gramont at the northwest, which is separated by the Baie de Londres. At the northeast point it borders Mac Murdo and Howe
With an area of 206 square kilometres (51,000 acres), it is the second largest island in the archipelago. Its highest point, which has an elevation of 687 metres (2,254 ft), is named la Pyramide mexicaine, 'the Mexican Pyramid'.Île Howe
Île Howe is one of the islands of the Kerguelen archipelago, situated to the north of Île Foch, just after Île MacMurdo. It is about 8 km in length. Apart from rabbits, it is free of introduced animals.Île Saint-Lanne Gramont
Île Saint-Lanne Gramont is an uninhabited island, the fourth largest island in the Kerguelen Islands, situated to the north of presqu'île de la Société de géographie, with an area of 45.8 km². It reaches 480 m at its highest point and is located at 48°55′25″S 69°10′54″E. The island is elongated along a north-south axis, reaching a maximum length of 13 km and a maximum width of 3 km. It is free of introduced animals.Îles Leygues
The Îles Leygues, or Leygues Islands, also sometimes known as the Îles Swain, comprise a group of small islands and islets that are part of the subantarctic Kerguelen archipelago, a French territory in the southern Indian Ocean.
They were named after Georges Leygues (1857-1933), a French politician and Minister of Marine. They are important as a breeding site for seabirds and fur seals.
|Climate data for Port-aux-Français, Kerguelen|
|Record high °C (°F)||22.3
|Average high °C (°F)||11.1
|Daily mean °C (°F)||7.8
|Average low °C (°F)||4.4
|Record low °C (°F)||−1.5
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||72.2
|Average relative humidity (%)||78||79||82||86||88||89||89||87||84||80||75||77||83|
Districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands
|Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands|
Outlying territories of European countries
Territories under European sovereignty but closer to or on continents other than Europe (see inclusion criteria for further information).