Livingston Island belongs to the South Shetlands island group, a 500km long Southern Ocean archipelago consisting of 11 islands and numerous islets separated from South America by the Drake Passage and from the Antarctic mainland by the Bransfield Straight. Livingston was discovered in 1819 by an English merchant William Smith, who was blown of course while sailing through the Drake Passage. Soon after its discovery, the Island became an attractive place for American and British sealers, as is revealed by a number of local place names that go back to that commemorate sealing vessels and their captains. Other more descriptive names reveal the island's hazardous areas, such as Devils Point, Hell Gates, Nothing Passage and the Robbery Beaches, where American sealers were robbed of their sealskins by the British.
Livingston is heavily glaciated with ice cliffs forming most of the coastline except for its isolated ice-free patches. During recent decades, retreating glaciers have uncovered new coves, beaches and points. The glaciated areas consist of ice caps (also highly crevassed), ice domes and plateaus in the central and western areas, and a number of valley glaciers formed on the more mountainous eastern area. Conspicuous ash layers originating from volcanic activity on the neighbouring Deception Island are a common feature seen in many glaciers. Deception Island is not the only source of volcanic ash. There are also several extinct volcanoes on Livingston itself. The weather on the island is very changeable and reputedly among the worst on Earth. Whiteouts are common and blizzards can occur at any time of year. During summer, air temperatures rarely exceed 3°C and in winter rarely fall below -11°C. This means it is warm and stable by Antarctic standards, reflecting the strong maritime effect upon temperature.
Source: Republic of Bulgaria, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Antarctic Place-names Commission of Bulgaria
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The majority of our work at Livingston was carried out in the Hannah Point area of South Bay. Here there are two permanent scientific bases that proudly carry Bulgarian and Spanish flags. St. Kliment Ohridski (Bulgaria), was established in 1988 and supports the Bulgarian Antarctic programme, which also includes occasional field camps in more remote areas of the island. Similarly, a Spanish station (Juan Carlos I) and Portuguese field camps operate on other parts of the island, such as on Byers Peninsula.
Recent changes in climate are a real challenge to the Bulgarian Antarctic Research programme at the time of writing. Years of snow accumulation seem to have been caused by a change in wind direction. The results include the gradual burial of several key buildings in snow, which greatly compromises the capacity of the station. This is less of a problem at the new Juan Carlos I station, because the local topography does not promote snow drift. The station is also designed to cope with drifting snow on account of its elevation above the ground on broad legs similar to the current UK Research Station at Halley. The problem of drifting snow at Livingston Island was a real surprise for us, since we planned our projects using dated photographs of a landscape with bare glacier ice by the end of the summer. We simply did not witness the removal of snow cover from much of the glaciers at all. Since this was also the case at Signy Island, then both of our field campaigns were characterized by lots and lots of snow cover.
To fulfill the objectives of our project we have selected permanent snow sampling sites in different environments representative of coastal Antarctica. For example, at the end of January 2014, we had five snow monitoring sites that ranged from coastal areas near the sea shore (where nutrient inputs from marine fauna were either present or absent), through the area of glacial moraines at the ice margin and then up onto the middle of the glacier.
Additionally, to study the environments influencing meltwater runoff to off-shore marine environment and the quality of such water we have performed exploratory fieldwork based on opportunistic sampling throughout the whole 2014 Antarctic summer at the Hurd Peninsula and in the vicinity of Charity Glacier. The locations of our fieldwork sites are presented as red dots on Fig. 1.