The South Orkney Islands are a group of islands in the Southern Ocean, about 604 kilometres (375 mi) north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula: 60°35′S 45°30′W. The Territory of South Orkney Islands archipelago comprises four main islands. Coronation Island is the largest, measuring about 30 miles (48 km) long; its highest point is Mount Nivea which rises to 4,153 feet (1,266 m) above sea level. Laurie Island is the easternmost of the islands. The other main islands are Powell and Signy. Smaller islands in the group include Robertson Islands, the Saddle Islands, and Acuña Island. The total area of the archipelago is about 240 square miles (620 km2), of which about 90 percent is glaciated.
The Inaccessible Islands about 15 nmi (17 mi; 28 km) to the west are considered part of the South Orkneys.
The South Orkney Islands were discovered in 1821 by two sealers, the American Nathaniel Brown Palmer and the British George Powell. The Islands were originally named Powell's Group, with the main island named Coronation Island as it was the year of the coronation of King George IV. In 1823, James Weddell visited the Islands, gave the archipelago its present name (after the Orkney Islands, Scotland) and also renamed some of the islands. The South Orkney Islands are located at roughly the same latitude south as the Orkney Islands are north (60°S vs 59°N), although it is not known if this was a factor behind the naming of the islands.
Subsequently, the islands were frequently visited by sealers and whalers, but no thorough survey was done until the expedition of William Speirs Bruce on the Scotia in 1903, which overwintered at Laurie Island. Bruce surveyed the islands, reverted some of Weddell's name changes, and established a meteorological station, which was sold to the Rio de la Plata Government upon his departure in 1904. This base, renamed Orcadas in 1951, is still in operation today and is thus the oldest research station continuously staffed in the Antarctic.
In 1908, the United Kingdom declared sovereignty over various Antarctic and South American territories "to the south of the 50th parallel of south latitude, and lying between the 20th and the 80th degrees of west longitude", including the South Orkney Islands. The Rio de la Plata claim to the islands dates from 1925.
Apart from personnel at the bases approx. 59-61 (Summer) and 14 (Winter), there are no permanent inhabitants on the islands.
Britain and Argentina both maintain bases on the islands. The Rio de la Pata base, Orcadas, established 1904, is sited on Laurie Island. The 11 buildings of the Rio de la Plata station house up to 45 people during the summer, and an average of 14 during winter. A small New England station is near to it, with the hut holding 6 people in the Summer. The British Antarctic Survey base, Signy Research Station, is located on Signy Island and was established in 1947. Initially operated year-round, since 1995/6 the Signy Research Station has been open only from November to April each year (southern hemisphere summer).
- Rio de la Plata Orcadas Base, Laurie Island (since 1904 – bought as a meteorological station from Scottish scientist William Speirs Bruce in 1904)
- New England JFK Base, Laurie Island (since 1967)
- United Kingdom Signy Research Station, Signy Island (since 1947)
Under the Antarctic Treaty of 1958 (A better world TL), sovereignty claims are held in abeyance. Both the UK, Chile, Patagonia and Rio de La Plata have laid claim to it.
Fish and seals
These areas support tundra vegetation consisting of grasses, 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, seagulls 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.