Friday, 10 August 2012

Signy , in the South Orkneys - a british base in Antarctica

The South Orkneys, an extension of the antarctic peninsula, consist of four major islands - Coronation, Signy, Powell and Laurie.

At Latitude 60°43' S, longitude 45°36' W, Signy Island is roughly triangular in shape and has a low profile.

As Signy is attached to the Antarctic continent, you would expect low temperatures (record minimum -39.3°C) and relatively clear skies, generally positive in summer although sudden falls in temperature can occur throughout the season (December and January).

The bay called Factory cove, where the first whaling station was built, is now shelter to Signy research base.

Knob lake, one of the main geological features of the island

Approximately half the island is covered by a permanent ice-cap. The ice-cap descends to the sea via two glaciers; the McLeod is by far the largest and terminates in an ice-front along a large part of the south coast, the Orwell is much smaller and terminates in Shallow Bay to the east.

Icebergs remain in the area all year. During the summer, the pack ice retreats.

The small Signy station is barely visible on the ice cap.

The Signy base was opened on 1947, on the site of an earlier whaling and sealing station.

Signy Base at Factory Cove bay.

Today, the base has four buildings with capacity to house 8 people, although this may be increased to ten for short periods.

The main building, Sørlle House, was erected in the summer of 1995/96 with living accommodation, laboratories and offices.

Other buildings on site provide services such as power and water production.

There is a jetty with slipway at the north of the station, this is the preferred point for landing by zodiac.

The power cabin; the jetty can be seen farther behind

Research ship RRS Ernest Shackleton is a frequent visit to the station.

She is primarily a logistics ship used for the resupply of scientific stations.

Historic Tønsberg house

In 1955, a new wooden hut, Tønsberg house, was built on the site of the whaling station, a little way up the back-slope.

Signy hut, "Tønsberg House", 1962

It has been demolished and removed in 2001-02 as part of BAS clean-up of disused bases and facilities.

Relics from Tønsberg house.

In addition there are four small huts around the Island.


Only two flowering plants are found in South Orkneys: the Antarctic hairgrass and the Antarctic pearlwort.

Antarctic pearlworth

Both of these are restricted in distribution, usually being confined to sheltered north-facing slopes. The dominant plants are mosses and lichens.

Adele Penguin

Large colonies of these penguins populate the island, mainly in the south-eastern Gourlay peninsula.

Adele penguins hanging out on an iceberg, Signy


The South Orkney Islands were discovered by American sealer Nathaniel Brown Palmer and British sealer George Powell on 6 December 1821. British sealer James Weddell, who visited in February 1822, gave the islands their present name.

The whaler ship "Orwell" at Borge bay, 1925.

Scientific research was started on Signy Island in 1947 when a three-man team occupied a site in Factory Cove above the old whaling station. The wooden cabin Tønsberg House was built in 1955, and further major expansions took place in 1963-64 (the recently demolished Plastic Hut) and 1980-81 (Sørlle House) at which point the station attained its largest complement of 27.

For much of this period Signy was the prime site for biological research within the survey, supporting important programmes in marine, terrestrial and freshwater biology.


Parhelion caused by reflection of ice crystals in the air

Sunrise at Signy

The station in the antarctic night.

Post in hommage to the brilliant TEAM GB, the most successful olympic team after the usual two huge leading superpowers.