The Kerguelen Islands (in French: commonly Îles Kerguelen or Archipel de Kerguelen but officially Archipel des Kerguelen or Archipel Kerguelen), also known as Desolation Island, is a group of islands in the southern Indian Ocean. It is a territory of France.
The Kerguelen Islands are located at , which is antipodal to the area where Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana meet in North America. The main island, Grande Terre, is 6,675 km² and it is surrounded by another 300 smaller islands and islets, forming an archipelago of 7,215 km². The climate is raw and chilly but not severely cold throughout the year - much like that of the outer Aleutian Islands of Alaska - with frequent high winds, and while the surrounding seas are generally rough, they remain ice-free year-round.
In English, "Kerguelen" is .
The islands, along with Adélie Land, the Crozet Islands, and the Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands are part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and are administered as a separate district.
They were discovered by the French navigator Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen de Trémarec in February 1772.
Soon after their discovery, this archipelago was regularly visited by whalers and sealers (mostly British, American, and Norwegian) who hunted the resident populations of whales and seals to the point of near extinction, including fur seals in the 18th century and elephant seals in the 19th century. Since the end of the whaling and sealing era, most of the islands' species have been able to re-establish themselves.
In the past, a number of expeditions briefly visited the islands, including that of Captain James Cook in 1776. The German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis called at Kerguelen during December 1940. During their stay the crew performed maintenance and replenished their water supplies. This ship's first fatality of the war occurred when a sailor fell while painting the funnel. He is buried in what is sometimes referred to as "the most southerly German grave" of the Second World War.
Kerguelen has been used by a small number of science teams since 1949, with a population of fifty to one hundred frequently present. There is also a French satellite tracking station. The main island is the home of a well-established feral cat population, descended from ships' cats. They survive on sea birds and the feral rabbits that were introduced to the islands. There is also a population of feral sheep from when sheep-raising was attempted here. The islands are also known for the indigenous, edible Kerguelen cabbage, a good source of vitamin C to ancient mariners. It was frequently served with corned beef.
The main base, the so-called "capital" of the islands, is located at the eastern end of the Gulf of Morbihan on Grande Terre island at , and it is known as Port-aux-Français. Facilities there include scientific-research buildings, a satellite tracking station, dormitories, a hospital, a library, a gymnasium, a pub, and the chapel of Notre-Dame des Vents.
In 2000, one of the men wintering-over was killed in a hunting accident on Ile Haute, an event written about by a British journalist, Matthew Parris, during a stay while writing a news column on the islands.
The main island of this archipelago is called La Grande Terre. It measures 150 km east to west and 120 km north to south. The highest point is the Galliéni Massif (Pic du Grand-Ross), which lies along the southern coast of the island and has an elevation of 1850 meters. The Cook Glacier, which covers approximately 550 square km, lies on the west-central part of the island. Grande Terre has numerous bays, inlets, fjords, and coves, as well as several peninsulas and promontories. The most important ones are listed below and indicated on the map by numbers:
There are also a number of notable localities, all on Grande Terre (see also the main map):
For the 1874 transit of Venus, George Biddell Airy at the Royal Observatory of the U.K. organized and equipped five expeditions to different parts of the world. Three of these were sent to the Kerguelen Islands. The Reverend Stephen Joseph Perry led the British expeditions to the Kerguelen Islands. He set up his main observation station at Observatory Bay and two auxiliary stations, one at Thumb Peak [49°31'11".8 S, 70°10'18".1 E] led by Sommerville Goodridge, and the second at Supply Bay [49°30'47".3 S, 69 °46'13".2 E] led by Cyril Corbet. Observatory Bay was also used by the German Antarctic Expedition led by Erich Dagobert von Drygalski in 1902-03. In January 2007, an archaeological excavation of this site was carried out.
The following list the most important adjacent islands:
Principal activities on the Kerguelen Islands focus on scientific research - mostly earth sciences and biology.
The former sounding rocket range to the east of Port-aux-Français is currently the site of a SuperDARN radar.
Since 1992, the French Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) has operated a satellite and rocket tracking station which is located four kilometers east of Port-aux-Français. There was a need for a tracking station in the Southern Hemisphere, and the French government required that it be located on French territory, rather than in a populated, foreign place like Australia or New Zealand.
Agricultural activities are limited to raising sheep (approximately 3500 Bizet sheep - an endangered species in metropolitan France) on Longue Island for consumption by the occupants of the base, as well as small quantities of vegetables in a greenhouse within the immediate vicinity of the main French base. There are also feral rabbits and sheep that can be hunted, and wild birds.
The Kerguelen islands form an emerged part of the submerged Kerguelen-Heard tectonic plate, which has a surface area nearing 2.2 million square kilometres.
The major part of the volcanic formations visible on the islands are characteristic of an effusive volcanism, which caused a trap rock formation to start emerging above the level of the ocean 35 million years ago. The accumulation is of a considerable amount; basalt flows, each with a thickness of three to ten meters, stack on top of each other, sometimes up to a depth of 1,200 metres. This form of volcanism creates a monumental relief shaped as stairs of pyramids.
Other forms of volcanism are present locally, such as the strombolic volcano Mont Ross, and the volcano-plutonic complex on the Rallier du Baty peninsula. Various veins and extrusions of lava such as trachytes, trachy-phonolites and phonolites are common all over the islands.
No eruptive activity has been recorded in historic times, but some fumaroles are still active in the South-West of the Grande-Terre island.
Glaciation caused the depression and tipping phenomena which created the gulfs at the north and east of the archipelago. Erosion caused by the glacial and fluvial activity carved out the valleys and fjords; erosion also created conglomerate detrital complexes, and the plain of the Courbet Peninsula.
The islands are part of a submerged microcontinent called the Kerguelen sub-continent. The microcontinent existed for three periods between 100 million years ago and 20 million years ago. The so-called Kerguelen sub-continent may have had tropical flora and fauna about 50 million years ago. The Kerguelen sub-continent finally sank 20 million years ago and is now one to two kilometers below sea level. Kerguelen's sedimentary rocks are similar to ones found in Australia and India, indicating they were all once connected. Scientists hope that studying the Kerguelen sub-continent will help them discover how Australia, India, and Antarctica broke apart.