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||Jean-François Vanacker|
|French overseas territory|
2,786 sq mi
|-||estimate||around 70 (winter)
around 110 (summer)
The Kerguelen Islands (// or //; in French commonly Îles Kerguelen or Archipel de Kerguelen but officially Archipel des Kerguelen or Archipel Kerguelen, pronounced: [kɛʁɡeˈlɛn]), also known as the Desolation Islands, are a group of islands in the southern Indian Ocean constituting one of the two emerged parts of the mostly submerged Kerguelen Plateau. Among the most isolated places on Earth, they are more than 3,300 km (2,051 mi) away from the nearest populated location. The islands, along with Adélie Land, the Crozet Islands and the Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands are part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and are administered as a separate district. There are no indigenous inhabitants, but France maintains a permanent presence of 50 to 100 scientists, engineers and researchers.
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. While the surrounding seas are generally rough, they remain ice-free year-round. There is no airport on the islands, so all travel and transport from the outside world are conducted by ship.
The islands were discovered by the Breton-French navigator Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen de 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 the 6th of January 1774 he commanded his lieutenant, Henri Pascal de Rochegude, to leave a message in a bottle notifying any passersby of the two passages and of the French claim to the islands. Thenafter, a number of expeditions briefly visited the islands, including that of Captain James Cook in December 1776, who verified and confirmed the passage of de Kerguelen by discovering and annotating the message left by the French navigator. In 1874–1875, British, German and U.S. expeditions visited Kerguelen to observe the transit of Venus.
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. Since the end of the whaling and sealing era, most of the islands' species have been able to increase their population again.
From 1825–1827, the British sealer John Nunn and three crew members were shipwrecked on Kerguelen, until they were rescued by Captain Alexander Distant during his hunting campaign.
In 1877 the French started a coal mining operation; however, this was abandoned soon after.
The Kerguelen Islands, along with the islands of Amsterdam and St. Paul, and the Crozet archipelago were officially annexed by France in 1893, and were included as possessions in the French constitution 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 part of the French colony of Madagascar. 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.[clarification needed]
The main island of the archipelago is called La Grande Terre. It measures 150 km east to west and 120 km north to south.
The main base, the so-called "capital" of the islands, is located along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Morbihan on La Grande Terre at , and it is known as Port-aux-Français. 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 the Galliéni Massif (Pic du Grand-Ross), which lies along the southern coast of the island and has an elevation of 1,850 meters. The Cook Glacier, France's largest glacier with an area of approximately 403 km², lies on the west-central part of the island. Overall, the glaciers of the Kerguelen Islands cover just over 500 km². Grande Terre has numerous bays, inlets, fjords, and coves, as well as several peninsulas and promontories. The most important ones are listed below:
- Courbet Peninsula
- Péninsule Rallier du Baty
- Péninsule Gallieni
- Péninsule Loranchet
- Péninsule Jeanne d'Arc
- Presqu'île Ronarc'h
- Presqu'île de la Société de Géographie
- Presqu'île Joffre
- Presqu'île du Prince de Galles
- Presqu'île du Gauss
- Presqu'île Bouquet de la Grye
- Presqu'île d'Entrecasteaux
- Presqu'île du Bougainville
- Presqu'île Hoche
There are also a number of notable localities, all on La Grande Terre (see also the main map):
- Anse Betsy [Betsy Cove] (a former geomagnetic station at transit of Venus. ), on Baie Accessible [Accessible Bay], on the north coast of the Courbet Peninsula. On this site an astronomical and geomagnetic observatory was erected on 26 October 1874 by a German research expedition led by Georg Gustav Freiherr von Schleinitz. The primary goal of this station was the 1874 observation of the
- Armor (Base Armor), established in 1983 forty kilometers west of Port-aux-Français at the bottom of Morbihan Gulf, for the acclimatization of salmon to the Kerguelen islands.
- Baie de l'Observatoire [Observatory Bay] (a former geomagnetic observation station at ), just west of Port-Aux-Français, on the eastern fringe of the Central Plateau, along the northern shore of the Golfe du Morbihan.
For the 1874 transit of Venus, George Biddell Airy at the Royal Observatory of the U.K. 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 [49°31'11.8"S, 70°10'18.1"E] led by Sommerville Goodridge, and the second at Supply Bay [49°30'47.3"S, 69°46'13.2"E] 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.
- Cabane Port-Raymond (scientific camp at ), at the head of a fjord cutting into the Courbet Peninsula from the south.
- Cap Ratmanoff (geomagnetic station at ), the eastmost point of the Kerguelens.
- La Montjoie (scientific camp at ), on the south shore of Baie Rocheuse, along the northwestern coast of the archipelago.
- Molloy (Pointe Molloy), a former observatory ten kilometers west of the present-day Port-Aux-Français, along the south coast of the Courbet Peninsula, or northern shore of the Golfe du Morbihan (Kerguelen), at . An American expedition led by G. P. Ryan erected a station at this site on 7 September 1874. That station was also established to observe the 1874 transit of Venus.
- Port Bizet (seismographic station at ), on the northeastern coast of Île Longue. This also serves as the principal sheep farm for the island's resident flock of Bizet sheep.
- Port Christmas (a former geomagnetic station at James Cook, who re-discovered the islands and who anchored there on Christmas Day, 1776. This is also the place where Captain Cook coined the name "Desolation Islands" in reference to what he saw as a sterile landscape. ), on Baie de l'Oiseau, in the extreme northwest of the Loranchet Peninsula. This place was so named by Captain
- Port Couvreux (a former whaling station, experimental sheep farm, and geomagnetic station, at ), on Baie du Hillsborough, on the southeast coast of Presqu'île Bouquet de la Grye. Starting in 1912, sheep were raised here to create an economic base for future settlement, however, the attempt failed and the last inhabitants had to be evacuated, and the station abandoned, in 1931. The huts remain, as well as a graveyard with five anonymous graves. These are those of the settlers who were unable to survive in the harsh environment.
- Port Curieuse (a harbor on the west coast across Île de l'Ouest Raymond Rallier du Baty on his second visit to the islands (1913–14). ). The site was named after the ship La Curieuse, which was used by
- Port Douzième (literally Twelfth Port, a hut and former geomagnetic station at ), on the north coast of Presqu'île Ronarch, southern shore of the Golfe du Morbihan.
- Port Jeanne d'Arc (a former whaling station founded by a Norwegian whaling company in 1908, and a former geomagnetic station at ), in the northwestern corner of Presqu'île Jeanne d'Arc, looking across the Buenos Aires passage to Île Longue (4 km northeast). The derelict settlement consists of four residential buildings with wooden walls and tin roofs, and a barn. One of the buildings was restored in 1977, and another in 2007.
The following is a list of the most important adjacent islands:
- Île Foch in the north of the archipelago, at , is the largest satellite island with an area of 206.2 km². Its highest point, at 687 m, is called La Pyramide Mexicaine.
- Île Howe which lies less than one kilometre off the northern coast of Ile Foch is, at ~54 km², the second most important offlier in the Kerguelens .
- Île Saint-Lanne Gramont, is to the west of Île Foch in the Golfe Choiseul. It has an area of 45.8 km². Its highest point reaches 480 m ( ).
- Île du Port, also in the north in the Golfe des Baleiniers at , is the fourth largest satellite island with an area of 43 km², near its centre it reaches an altitude of 340 m.
- Île de l'Ouest (west coast, about 33 km², )
- Île Longue (southeast, about 35 km² )
- Îles Nuageuses (northwest, including île de Croÿ, île du Roland, îles Ternay, îles d'Après, )
- Île de Castries ( )
- Îles Leygues (north, including île de Castries, île Dauphine, )
- Île Violette ( )
- Île aux Rennes [also known as Reindeer Island or Australia Island] (western part of the Golfe du Morbihan, area 36.7 km², altitude 199 m, )
- Île Haute (western part of the Golfe du Morbihan, altitude 321 m, )
- Île Mayès ( )
Principal activities on the Kerguelen Islands focus on scientific research – mostly earth sciences and biology.
The former sounding rocket range to the east of Port-aux-Français SuperDARN radar.is currently the site of a
Since 1992, the French Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) has operated a satellite and rocket tracking station which is located four kilometers east of Port-aux-Français. There was a need for a tracking station in the Southern Hemisphere, and the French government required that it be located on French territory, rather than in a populated, foreign place like Australia or New Zealand.
Agricultural activities are limited to raising sheep (approximately 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 some fishing boats and vessels, owned by fishermen on Réunion Island (a department of France approximately 3,500 km (2,300 miles) 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 square kilometres. 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. 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 kilometers 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 tundra climate, in which the warmest month averages below 10 °C, however it is also classified as subpolar oceanic in that the coldest month has an average temperature of above 0 °C. Comparable climates include those of Chilean Patagonia or Iceland, as well as other subantarctic island groups such as the Crozet or Falkland 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 lies at around 4.9 °C with an annual range of around 6 °C. The warmest months of the year include January and February, with average temperatures between 7.8–8.2 °C, and the coldest month of the year is August with an average temperature of 2.1 °C. Absolute annual highs in temperature rarely surpass 20 °C, while temperatures in winter have never been recorded to go below −10 °C 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 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, due to the islands' location in the Roaring Forties. Wind speeds of 150 km/h are common and can even reach 200 km/h.
Waves up to 12–15 m high are common, but there are many sheltered places where ships can dock.
|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
|Precipitation mm (inches)||72.2
Flora and fauna
The 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, 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 feral sheep and reindeer.
- Administrative divisions of France
- Crozet Islands
- Falkland Islands
- French overseas departments and territories
- Islands controlled by France in the Indian and Pacific oceans
- South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
- List of Antarctic and subantarctic islands
- List of islands
- Official organisational chart
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Sea Level Measurement and Analysis in the Western Indian Ocean, UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
- "Kerguelen - yves trémarec - james cook - asia - hillsborough - rhodes". Kerguelen-voyages.com.
- The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook Round the World, volume 5, James Cook, pub. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, et Brown, Londres, 1821, pp. 146-151.
- Exploring Polar Frontiers, p. 346, William James Mills, 2003
- Whales, whaling, and ocean ecosystems, James A. Estes
- "Kerguelen - morell - john nunn - ross - ofley - challenger - fuller - eure - bossière". Kerguelen-voyages.com.
- "19th Century History of Kerguelen Island, South Indian Ocean". Btinternet.com. 2003-06-29. Archived from the original on 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2012-03-30.[dead link]
- Kauffmann, Jean-Paul (2001). Voyage to Desolation Island. Random House. pp. 77–78. ISBN 1860469264. Retrieved 18 Dec 2012.
- (French) bases temporaires de lancements de fusées
- article by Roland Shlich (Research Manager at the CNRS)
- UT Austin scientist plays major role in study of underwater "micro-continent". Retrieved on 2007-06-29
- Sci/Tech 'Lost continent' discovered Retrieved on 2007-06-29
- "Le climat à Port aux Français (en °C et mm, moyennes mensuelles 1971/2000 et records depuis 1973) sur MeteoStats".
- "Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- Minou, ce dangereux prédateur
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kerguelen Islands.|
|The Wikibook Geography of France has a page on the topic of: Kerguelen Islands|
- Official website (French)
- Official website (French)
- Cartography of the Kerguelen, including a toponymy index (dead link)
- Personal site with many pictures
- Rocket launches on the Kerguelen Islands
- "South Atlantic & Subantarctic Islands site, Kerguelen Archipelago page". Archived from the original on 2012-11-29.