Bouvet Island – ‘The Last Place on Earth’

October 10, 2013
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800px-Bouvet_island_0It seems fitting that the most isolated spot on the planet should be an inhospitable, glacier-covered rock sitting smack in the path of the ‘furious fifties’ storm winds. More than 1700 and 2500 kms respectively from nearest neighbours Antarctica and Cape Agulhus (South Africa) Bouvet Island is so remote that, even after its initial discovery by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Lozier Bouvet in 1738, subsequent attempts to locate it – by Captains Cook and Furneaus (in 1772 and 1774 respectively) – proved fruitless.

It was 1808 before Bouvet was again sighted (by a Captain Lindsay aboard the whaler Snow Swan, who was actually looking for it). Three miles’ worth of field ice surrounding the island meant it was 1825 before anyone successfully landed; two boats sent ashore by Captain Norris of the Sprightly and Lively were rewarded with a difficult landing followed by a weather-bound six-day stay there in the run up to Christmas 1825. It was 1898 before Germany’s Captain Adalbert Krech on the survey ship Valdivia permanently fixed the island’s location – 54°25′ S 3°22’E.

 

As author Rupert Gould* put it, “Around Bouvet Island, it is possible to draw a circle of one thousand miles radius (having an area of 3,146,000 square miles, or very nearly that of Europe) which contains no other land whatever. No other point of land on the earth’s surface has this

peculiarity.” With a location like that, it’s hardly surprising that, when Norwegian explorers landed and laid claim to the island in 1927, Britain (which had previously assumed ownership) barely registered a grumble.

The Bouvet Island mystery lifeboat and friend.

The Bouvet Island mystery lifeboat and friend.

As is often the case with remote places, Bouvet has attracted its share of mystery. A lifeboat was found nestled in an onshore lagoon there in 1964, with no sign of its origins or any possible occupants. Strangely, the boat gets no mention in a 1966 expedition, which nonetheless recorded the biological details of the lagoon.  The 1979 ‘Vela Incident’ – in which an unusual, double flash of light consistent with a nuclear explosion was picked up by the American Vela satellite – took place between Bouvet and Prince Edward Islands. The jury is still out on the cause, but theories range from instrument error to meter strike and a secret, joint nuclear bomb detonation by the South African and Israeli governments.

The island remains uninhabited; in 1971, Bouvet and its territorial waters were designated a nature reserve. A Norwegian automated weather station was established there in 1977 but a sturdier field station constructed in 1994 had disappeared from satellite view by 2007, presumed swept away by one of the islands many landslides or ice avalanches.

Bouvet Island has an the Internet country code top-level domain of .bv. The Norwegian government has no plans to use it.

In 2012, a team of explorers from ‘Expedition Pour le Futur 2062’ travelled there on the Hanse Explorer. They climbed to Olavtoppen, the island’s highest point (780m), where they left a time capsule. The below video clip entitled ‘The Last Place on Earth’ tells a little about it.

 

*Rupert Gould. ‘The Auroras, and Other Doubtful Islands.’ In Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1944.

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