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Deception Island (South Shetland Islands)

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Title: Deception Island (South Shetland Islands)  
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Subject: South Shetland Islands, List of Antarctic and subantarctic islands, Mount Wilcox (Antarctica), Gabriel de Castilla, List of islands of the United Kingdom
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Deception Island (South Shetland Islands)

This article is about the island in Antarctica. For the island in Washington State, see Deception Pass. For the island in Chile, see List of islands of Chile#Deceit Island.
Deception Island
Livingston Island in the background
Elevation 576 m (1,890 ft)[1]
Prominence 576 m (1,890 ft)
Location Antarctica

62°58′37″S 60°39′00″W / 62.97694°S 60.65000°W / -62.97694; -60.65000

Type Caldera
Last eruption 1970
Deception Island
Map of Deception Island.

Location of Deception Island
Location Antarctica

62°58′37″S 60°39′00″W / 62.97694°S 60.65000°W / -62.97694; -60.65000Coordinates: 62°58′37″S 60°39′00″W / 62.97694°S 60.65000°W / -62.97694; -60.65000

Area 72 km2 (27.8 sq mi)
Length 12 km (7.5 mi)
Width 12 km (7.5 mi)
Population 0
Additional information
Administered under the Antarctic Treaty System

Deception Island is an island, in the South Shetland Islands archipelago off the Antarctic Peninsula, that has one of the safest harbours in Antarctica. The island is the caldera of an active volcano, which caused serious damage to the local scientific stations in 1967 and 1969. The island previously held a whaling station; it is now a tourist destination and scientific outpost, with research bases being run by Argentina and Spain. Various countries have previously asserted sovereignty; it is administered under the Antarctic Treaty System.


Since the early 19th century, Deception Island was a favourite refuge from the storms and icebergs of Antarctica. It was first used by sealers. The volcano has destroyed most attempts to maintain permanent facilities. In 2000, there were two summer-only scientific stations, the Spanish Gabriel de Castilla Spanish Antarctic Station (es)[2] and the Argentinian Decepción Station.[3]

In 1829, the British Naval Expedition to the South Atlantic under the command of Captain Henry Foster in HMS Chanticleer stopped at Deception Island. The expedition conducted a topographic survey and scientific experiments, particularly pendulum and magnetic observations.[4]

In 1906, a Norwegian-Chilean whaling company headed by Adolfus Andresen started using Whalers Bay as a base for a factory ship, the Gobernador Bories. Other whaling operations followed and by 1914 there were 13 factory ships based there. The on-shore station, built in 1912 by the company Hvalfangerselskabet Hektor A/S, did not process whale blubber, which was done on the ships, but boiled down the carcasses in large iron boilers to extract additional whale oil, which was stored in iron tanks. Whale oil prices dropped during the Great Depression, making the station uneconomic and it was abandoned in 1931.[5] Advances in factory ships made shore stations for carcass processing unnecessary, and it was never reoccupied. Thirty-five men were buried in the station's cemetery along with a memorial to ten more presumed drowned; but the cemetery was itself buried by a volcanic eruption in 1969.[5]

In the 1940s and 1950s, Argentina contested control of Deception Island with the UK with some removals of the sovereign flag and temporary occupation of the island.

The British established a permanent base on Deception Island on 3 February 1944, as part of Operation Tabarin. This was occupied until 5 December 1967, when an eruption forced a temporary withdrawal. It was used again between 4 December 1968 and 23 February 1969, when further volcanic activity caused it to be abandoned.[6]

In 1955, Chile inaugurated its station Pedro Aguirre Cerda at Pendulum Cove, to increase the Chilean presence in the sector claimed by that nation.

In 1961, Argentina's president Arturo Frondizi visited the island to show his country's interest.

When the US Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind visited Deception Island in 1963/64, the British and Chilean scientific stations were active. The Chileans had an airstrip, with a DeHavilland Beaver supplying their base from Punta Arenas. There were active fumaroles spewing noxious gases and some fumaroles had churning volcanic ash in the depressions. The Eastwind ran aground on 21 January 1964, which is likely the only time an American military ship ever ran aground inside an active volcano. The ship refloated with the rising tide.[7]

In 1969, a violent volcanic eruption demolished the Chilean stations Pedro Aguirre Cerda and Gutierrez Vargas (es). Remains at Whalers Bay include rusting boilers and tanks, an aircraft hangar and the British scientific station house (Biscoe House), with the middle torn out by the 1969 mudflows. A bright orange derelict airplane fuselage was removed in 2004.[3]

The Russian cruise ship MV Lyubov Orlova ran aground at Deception Island on 27 November 2006.[8] She was towed off by Spanish Navy icebreaker, Las Palmas and later became a ghost ship in the North Atlantic.


The island is approximately circular with a diameter of about 12 km (7.5 mi). A peak on the east side of the island, Mount Pond, has an elevation of 542 m (1,778 ft), and over half the island is covered by glaciers. The centre of the island is a caldera formed in a huge (VEI-6) eruption which has been flooded by the sea to form a large bay, now called Port Foster, about 9 km (5.6 mi) long and 6 km (3.7 mi) wide. The bay has a narrow entrance, just 230 m (755 ft) wide, called Neptune's Bellows. Adding to the hazard is Ravn Rock, which lies 2.5 m (8.2 ft) below the water in the middle of the channel. Just inside Neptune's Bellows lies the cove Whalers Bay, which is bordered by a large black sand beach.

Several maars line the inside rim of the caldera, with some containing crater lakes (including one named Crater Lake). Others form bays within the harbour, such as the 1 km (0.6 mi) wide Whalers Bay. Other features of the island include Mount Achala, Primero de Mayo Bay, Sewing-Machine Needles, Telefon Bay and Telefon Ridge.


Deception Island has become a popular tourist stop in Antarctica because of its several colonies of Chinstrap Penguins, as well as the novel possibility of making a warm bath by digging into the sands of the beach. Mount Flora is the first site in Antarctica where fossilized plants were discovered.[9]

After the Norwegian Coastal Cruise Liner MS Nordkapp ran aground off the coast of Deception Island on 30 January 2007, fuel from the ship washed into a bay. Ecological damage has not yet been determined. On 4 February 2007 the Spanish Gabriel de Castilla research station on Deception Island reported that water and sand tests were clean and that they had not found signs of the oil, estimated as 500 to 750 litres (130 to 200 US gallons; 110 to 160 imperial gallons) of light diesel.

Deception Island exhibits some wildly varying microclimates. Some water temperatures reach 70 °C (158 °F). Near volcanic areas, the air can be as hot as 40 °C (104 °F).

Antarctic Specially Protected Areas

Some 11 terrestrial sites have been collectively designated an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA 140), primarily for their botanic and ecological values, because the island has the greatest number of rare plant species of any place in the Antarctic. This is largely due to frequent volcanic activity creating new substrates for plant colonisation:[10]

  • Collins Point (Site A) contains good examples of long-established vegetation, with high species diversity and several rarities.
  • Crater Lake (Site B) has a scoria-covered lava tongue with a diverse cryptogamic flora, and exceptional development of turf-forming mosses.
  • An unnamed hill at the southern end of Fumarole Bay (Site C) has several rare species of moss which have colonised the heated soil crust close to a line of volcanic vents.
  • Fumarole Bay (Site D) is geologically complex with the most diverse flora on the island.
  • West Stonethrow Ridge (Site E) supports several rare mosses, liverworts and lichens.
  • Telefon Bay (Site F) has all its surfaces dating from 1967, thus allowing accurate monitoring of colonisation by plants and animals.
  • Pendulum Cove (Site G) is another known-age site being colonised by mosses and lichens.
  • Mount Pond (Site H) contains exceptional moss, liverwort and lichen communities.
  • Perchue Cone (Site J) is an ash and cinder cone with rare mosses.
  • Ronald Hill to Kroner Lake (Site K) is another known-age site being colonised by numerous cryptogam species, and with a unique algal community on the lake shore.
  • South East Point (Site L) supports the most extensive population of Antarctic pearlwort known in the Antarctic region.

In addition, two marine sites in Port Foster have collectively been designated Antarctic Specially Protected Area 145, to protect their benthic communities.[11]

Important Bird Area

Baily Head, a prominent headland forming the easternmost extremity of the island, has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports a very large breeding colony of Chinstrap Penguins (100,000 pairs). The 78 ha IBA comprises the ice-free headland and about 800 m of beach on either side of it. Other birds known to nest at the site include Brown Skuas, Cape Petrels and Snowy Sheathbills.[12]


The derelict hangar
The destroyed British base
Warm volcanic bath at Port Foster
Remains of the whaling station's boilers

See also


  • Official Deception Island website. Accessed 3 May 2007.
  • Volcanic Activity. Accessed 4 June 2007.
  • Deception Island, Eco-Photo Explorers. Accessed 3 May 2007.

External links

  • Images from Deception Island
  • Página Web de la base Gabriel de Castilla
  • "Steamed Ice and Frosted Lava" Account of a tourist visit to Deception Island
  • British Deception Island station
  • 21 photos of Deception island
  • A visit to Deception Island, and other places on the Antarctic Peninsula, in 2002/3
  • Antarctic suspense novel Deception Island

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