The snow-capped Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands are highlighted in this Envisat image. The tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, seen in the bottom centre, is the northernmost part of Antarctica’s mainland, making it Antarctica’s farthest point from the South Pole.
Extending 1000 km in the south-north direction, the Antarctic Peninsula is situated between the Bellingshausen Sea on the west and the Weddell Sea on the east. Along the peninsula the ice shelves can reach 300 m thickness. They are nourished by glaciers streaming down from the central ice sheet plateau, which extends as a narrow spine along the central part of the peninsula.
This region has experienced exceptional atmospheric warming since the 1950s and is therefore of key interest for global change research. Over the last 50 years an average temperature increase of 2.5°C has been observed at the climate stations on the peninsula. This has triggered the retreat and break-up of several ice shelves, culminating in the collapse of the two northern parts of the Larsen Ice Shelf in January 1995 (Larsen A) and in March 2002 (Larsen B). The launch of Envisat on 1 March 2002 occurred just in time to capture the dramatic break-up of Larsen B.
Located about 120 km north of the peninsula in the Southern Ocean is the South Shetland Islands, seen in the upper left corner. The South Shetlands is a 540-km chain of four main island groups: Clarence and Elephant islands (not visible); King George and Nelson islands; Robert, Greenwich, Livingston, Snow and Deception islands; and Smith and Low islands.
The four main island groups, which include 11 major islands as well as several minor ones, cover 3687 sq km and are mostly glaciated. The islands visible in this image from top right to bottom left are King George, Nelson, Robert, Greenwich, Livingston and Deception, which is easily recognisable because of its broken-ring shape.
King George Island, covering 1295 km, is the largest of the South Shetlands. There are numerous year-round research stations on this island maintained by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia and Uruguay. Ecuador, Germany, Peru and the United States operate summer bases.
This image was acquired on 16 December 2006 by Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument while working in Full Resolution mode.