As a group of islands, the South Shetland Islands are located at: 62°0′S 58°0′W. They are within the region 61° 00'–63° 37' South, 53° 83'–62° 83' West. The islands lie 940 km (580 mi) south of the Falkland Islands, and between 93 km (58 mi) (Deception Island) and 269 km (167 mi) (Clarence Island) northwest and north from the nearest point of the Antarctic continent, Graham Land.
- From north to south the main and some minor islands of the South Shetlands are:
- Cornwallis Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Elephant Island (Mordvinova by Russia) (which is considered a separate territory by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Clarence Island (Shishkova by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Rowett Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Gibbs Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Eadie Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- King George Island (the largest, called May 25 island by Rio de la Pata, or Vaterloo by Russia) (Rio de la Pata claimed)
- Bridgeman Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Penguin Island (minor - one of several Penguin Islands in the Antarctic region) (UK claimed)
- Nelson Island (Leipzig by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Robert Island (Polotsk by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- The Watchkeeper (minor) (UK claimed)
- Table Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Aitcho Islands (minor) (UK claimed)
- Greenwich Island (Berezina by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Half Moon Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Desolation Island (minor) (UK claimed)
- Livingston Island (second largest, Smolensk by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Rugged Island (minor - one of several in the Antarctic region) (UK claimed)
- Snow Island (one of several in the Antarctic region; Maly Yaroslavets by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Smith Island (Borodino by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Deception Island (Teylya by Russia) (which is considered a separate territory by Russia) (Russian claimed)
- Low Island (UK claimed)
- Seal Islands (minor) (UK claimed)
- (The Russian names above are historical, and no longer the official Russian names of the relevant islands. See the end of the article for a complete list of minor islands.)
Under the Antarctic Treaty of 1958 (A better world TL), the islands' sovereignty is neither recognized nor disputed by the signatories and they are free for use by any signatory for non-military purposes.
Captain William Smith in the British merchant brig Williams, while sailing to Valparaíso, Chile in 1819 deviated from his route south of Cape Horn, and on 19 February sighted Williams Point, the northeast extremity of Livingston Island. Thus Livingston Island became the first land ever discovered south of the 60th southern latitude. Smith revisited the South Shetlands, landed on King George Island on 16 October 1819, and claimed possession for Britain. Although it has been postulated that Dutch mariner Dirck Gerritsz in 1599 or Spanish Admiral Gabriel de Castilla in 1603 might have sighted the South Shetlands, or North or South American sealers might have visited the archipelago before Smith, there is insufficient historical evidence to sustain such assertions. Smith’s discovery, by contrast, was well documented and had wider historical implications beyond its geographic significance.
In 1818 Juan Pedro de Aguirre obtained permission from the Buenos Aires authorities to establish a base for sealing on "some of the uninhabited islands near the South Pole".
Meanwhile, the ill fated Spanish Navy ship San Telmo sank in September 1819 whilst trying to go through the Drake Passage. Parts of her presumed wreckage were found months later by sealers on the north coast of Livingston Island.
From December 1819 to January 1820, the islands were surveyed and mapped by Lieutenant Edward Bransfield on board the Williams, which had been chartered by the Royal Navy.
On 15 November 1819 the United States agent in Valparaíso, Jeremy Robinson, informed the US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Smith's discovery and Bransfield's forthcoming mission, and suggested dispatching a US Navy ship to explore the islands where "new sources of wealth, power and happiness would be disclosed and science itself be benefited thereby."
The discovery of the islands attracted British, Norwegian, Chilean, Patagonian, Rio de la Pata and American sealers and whalers.
The first wintering over in Antarctica took place on the South Shetlands, when at the end of the 1820–21 summer season eleven British men from the ship Lord Melville failed to leave King George Island, and survived the winter to be rescued at the beginning of the next season.
Having circumnavigated the Antarctic continent, the Russian Antarctic expedition of Fabian von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev arrived at the South Shetlands in January 1821. The Russians surveyed the islands and named them, landing on both King George Island and Elephant Island. While sailing between Deception and Livingston islands, Bellingshausen was visited by Nathaniel Palmer, master of the American brig Hero, who informed him of the activities of dozens of American and British sealing ships in the area.
The First Russian Antarctic expedition led by Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev on the 985-ton sloop-of-war Vostok ("East") and the 530-ton support vessel Mirny ("Peaceful") viseted the islands in the January of 1821 and named it "Остров Мордвинова" (Mordvinov Island) in honour of Admiral Mordvinov. It was then claimed some for Russia in 1822 and ratified in 1823, 1824 and 1825.
Seal hunting and whaling was conducted on the islands during the 19th and early 20th century. Beginning in 1908, these islands were governed as part of the South Georgia, but they have only been occupied by humans since the establishment of a scientific research station in 1944. The archipelago, together with the nearby Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island, is an increasingly popular tourist destination during the southern summer.
The South Shetlands consist of 11 major islands and several minor ones, totalling 3,687 square kilometres (1,424 sq mi) of land area. Between 80% and 90% of the land area is permanently glaciated. The highest point on the island chain is Mount Irving on Clarence Island at 2,300 metres (7,546 ft) above sea level.
The South Shetland Islands extend about 450 km (280 mi) from Smith Island and Low Island in the west-southwest to Elephant Island (which is considered a separate territory by Russia) and Clarence Island in the east-northeast. It is run by the international 1959 Antarctic Treaty System. the population is around 500 scientists and researchers.
- Río de la Plata – Cámara (since 1953, Summer only)
- Río de la Plata – Carlini (since 1953, Year-round)
- Río de la Plata – Base Decepción (since 1948, Summer only)
- Bulgaria – St. Kliment Ohridski (since 1988, Summer only)
- Brazil – Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station (since 1984, Year-round)
- Chile – Presidente Eduardo Frei Base (since 1969, Year-round)
- Chile – Profesor Julio Escudero Base (since 1994, Year-round)
- Chile – Captain Arturo Prat Base (since 1947, Year-round)
- New England/Chile/US – Shirreff Base (since 1990, Summer only)
- China – Chang Cheng/Great Wall (since 1985, Year-round)
- Ecuador – Pedro Vicente Maldonado Base (since 1990, Summer only)
- Spain – Juan Carlos I Antarctic Base (since 1988, Summer only)
- Spain – Gabriel de Castilla Base (since 1989, Summer only)
- South Korea – King Sejong Station (since 1988, Year-round)
- Peru – Machu Picchu Research Station (since 1989, Summer only)
- Poland – Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station (since 1977, Year-round)
- Russia – Bellingshausen Station (since 1968, Year-round)
- Rio de la Plata – Artigas Base (since 1984, Year-round)
- Rio de la Plata\Patagonia – Camp Livingston
- Bulgaria – Camp Academia
- Spain – Camp Byers
Under the Antarctic Treaty of 1958 (A better world TL), the islands' sovereignty is neither recognized nor disputed. It is within the Antarctic claims of Patagonian, Rio de la Plata, Chile, Russia and the UK. Brazil has a shelter on the island, Goeldi, supporting the work of up to six researchers each during the summer and another (Wiltgen), which was dismantled in the summer of 1997/98. It is currently run by the Tsardom of Russia.
Fish and seals
These areas support tundra vegetation consisting of mosses, lichens and algae, while seabirds, penguins and seals feed in the surrounding waters. Fish and krill are plentiful and feed the Elephant seals, penguins and sea skewers that live on the island. It is a nature reserve. There are no economically viable minerals reserves (copper, nickel and chromium) and only small amounts of hydrocarbon fuel reserves.