117 years of Argentine presence in Antarctica | Polarjournal
For more than a century, the “Orcadas” station has been the only Antarctic station to be manned year-round without interruption. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

February 22 is a memorable day in Argentine polar research. Exactly 117 years ago, the station located 1,500 kilometres south of Ushuaia was handed over to Argentina by its former owners. Since that time, the “Orcadas” station has been continuously manned all year round, making it the oldest permanently inhabited station in Antarctica.

The “Orcadas” station is located on Laurie Island in the archipelago of the southern Orkney Islands. It is separated from the nearest port, Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego, by 1,500 km. The nearest Antarctic station is the British “Signy” station,51 km away. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

At the beginning of the 20th century, the “Scottish National Antarctic Expedition” led by Wiiliam Speirs Bruce set off south. Bruce explored parts of Antarctica in 1902-1904. His achievements include the establishment of the first manned weather station in Antarctica and the discovery of new land to the east of the Weddell Sea. The large collection of biological and geological samples, together with those from Bruce’s earlier voyages, led to the establishment of the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in 1906.

Several attempts to advance further into the Weddell Sea failed. Thereafter, the expedition members devoted more time to exploring the South Orkney Islands. The base for their explorations was a stone cabin built on Laurie Island in 1903. The hut was handed over to Argentinean explorers on February 22, 1904, who have been operating it under the name “Orcadas” ever since.

The oldest buildings of the station, “Omond House”, was built in 1903 by the Scottish expedition under William Speirs Bruce. Today, only the remains bear witness to it. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

On February 22 each year, Argentina remembers the time when it raised the Argentine flag at the Laurie Island Meteorological Observatory and took over the station. The first Argentine station members were an employee of the Zoological Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, an employee of the National Meteorological Office, and an employee from the Ministry of Livestock, who also served as the first postmaster.

The station “Orcadas” is located on rocky ground and is 170 meters from the coast. The station consists of a total of 11 buildings. In summer up to 45 people are stationed and in winter on average 14 people. Each complement includes a doctor for medical care.

The total area of the stationis 4’800 m², the area in the buildings is 2’101 m², of which 423 m² are intended for the accommodation of the residents. The station consumes 192,000 litres of fuel per year, which is also used to generate electricity with four generators. Water consumption is 1.08 million litres, with water obtained from melting ice. The waste water is discharged into the sea. Twice a year a ship calls at “Orcadas” for supplies.

The main research topics on “Orcadas” are glaciology, seismology and meteorology.

The only permanent visitors to the small cemetery are the penguins. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

The oldest buildings of the station, the “Omond House” dating 1903, the Argentinean magnetic observatory “Moneta House” built in 1905 and an Argentinean meteorological hut, together with a cemetery with twelve graves, the oldest of which dates back to 1903, are now protected as historic site HSM-42 under the Antarctic Treaty.

Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, Argentina has also strengthened its role as a key player in the international agreement that protects the continent with international cooperation.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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