History of The Antarctic Peninsula
Antarctica was discovered relatively late, most likely by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen in 1820. The first explorers to recognize it as a large mass of land were Edward Bransfield and William Smith on January 30th, 1820 (just 3 days after Bellingshausen); they proceeded to chart part of the Antarctic Peninsula. With subsequent exploration and mapping, the northeastern part of the peninsula was named Trinity Peninsula. John Biscoe, a British explorer, choose the name Graham Land for the northern Antarctic Peninsula in 1832. With the northern tip of the peninsula being only about 1,000 km (620 miles) from South America, this region attracted commercial whaling and seal hunting expeditions. The first aerial surveys by the British Graham Land Expedition (1934-1937) finally confirmed this area to be a peninsula and not just an island connected to the Antarctic Continent by an ice sheet. The term “Antarctic Peninsula” has only been around since 1964, when a long dispute between the United States (wanting to name this territory Palmer Peninsula) and Britain (who insisted on Graham Land) was finally solved.
Antarctic Peninsula Map
Reaching out like a tail toward the southern tip of South America, the Antarctic Peninsula features the Bellingshausen Sea on its west coast and the Weddell Sea on its eastern side. It features five of the 15 major ice shelves on the continent (Prince Gustav Ice, Larsen, Wordie, Wilkins and George VI ice shelves). The Antarctic Circle runs through the northern tip of the peninsula and there are no people permanently living on the White Continent anywhere (although it’s home to many research bases). East of the tip of the peninsula are the subantarctic islands (such as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). Next to the eastern tip of the peninsula is James Ross Island, where you can still discover the expedition huts of explorers Scott and Shackleton. Sailing south from the South American Continent, the first land you will see is King George Island (part of the South Shetland Islands).
It’s cold down there! While generally this is true, it all depends on where on the continent you find yourself. The Maritime Antarctic climate in West Antarctica and on the peninsula is milder, with average temperatures of +1°C (33 °F) in the summer months and -15°C (5 °F) in winter. The West Antarctic ice sheet has been warming over the last decades and the cooler climate from East Antarctica only partly offsets this trend. The British Antarctic Survey launched an international research project on Antarctic Climate Evolution (published in 2003) to study Antarctica’s climate and glacial history. The team links climate and ice sheet modeling studies with geological surveys around Antarctica to gain a better understanding of how the climate has changed over time.
When to Go
See Antarctica awaken after a long winter. Pack ice is melting and it’s the perfect time to see the biggest icebergs out there. See the peculiar mating rituals of penguins and pristine, snow-covered landscapes. This time is perfect to feel like a real explorer and to be one of the first in the season to explore!December/January
This is the best travel time for photographers and wildlife lovers! Penguin chicks are hatching and the polar day gives you plenty of daylight to explore. See cute gentoo, chinstrap, adélie and king penguins in large colonies. Temperatures are rising, and you can see glacier calving.February/March
As the days are getting shorter, you’ll witness the most incredible sunsets and sunrises on the White Continent. This is also the best time for whale watching as minke, killer and humpback whales return to the Southern Ocean to feed on krill.
How do I get to Antarctica?
Visit Antarctica as part of an Antarctic cruise. You’ll depart from the southern tip of Argentina and explore the peninsula with a professional expedition team on a comfortable ship. Some expeditions even cruise from the Antarctic Peninsula south, to cross the Antarctic Circle.Is Antarctica Habitable?
While temperatures and climate are relatively mild, no humans live permanently on the peninsula. Only research stations can be found on the continent.Which country owns Antarctica?
No single country owns the continent. Over the decades, various nations made territorial claims to Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty (signed in 1959) regulates internationals relations and countries who signed the treaty have since established research stations across the continent.
Where does the Antarctic Peninsula come from?
Western Antarctica (and the peninsula) originated in a similar way to the Andes Mountains in South America. Volcanic activity created Antarctica, which previously adjoined the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. Eventually the peninsula separated from the South American continent.