Fig.1 Signy Island. Red and Blue dots mark snow sampling locations. Red and Blue circles mark water sampling locations. Map modified from Antarctic Digital Database. Hover over the map and click to zoom in
Signy is situated in the in the Scotia Sea about 600km NE of the Antarctic Peninsula and approximately 900km SW of South Georgia (see the map to your left). It is the one of the four major islands belonging to South Orkeneys alongside Coronation, Powell and Laurie. Although South Orkeneys were officially discovered in 1821 by British and American sealers, Signy itself was discovered a few years later by Metthew Brisbane (who was part of the expedition led by James Weddell surveying the south coast of Coronation Island) and named after Signy Therese Sørlle the wife of the Norwegian whaler ship's captain, Petter Sørlle.
Signy is about 6.5 km long, 5 km wide and ranges in elevation from 0 to 278m. The island is covered by a permanent ice cap (50%) and several glaciers of which the largest terminates on the southern coast. The coastline is rocky with exposed crags and bouldery slopes. Weather conditions vary from nearly continental climate during winter (mean temp. –2°C to –17° C) to maritime during summer (mean temp. –2°C to 3°C) with strong, frequent and prevailing from the west winds. Such a change is a result of the presence of pack ice that during winter which attaches Signy to Antarctic continent.
Scientific research on Signy dates back to 1947 when a three-man team occupied a site in Factory Cove above the old whaling station. Today the station belongs to the British Antarctic Survey and since 1996 is operated only during summer. The base can accommodate circa 8 people and is used to support biological research including long-term ecosystem monitoring and climate studies.
Source: ASPA No. 114 Management Plan, 2003; BAS, Signy Island Research Station; COMNAP, Antarctic Facilities
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During our field campaign on Singy we established two permanent snow and meltwater sampling sites: Gourlay Snowfield and Tuva Glacier. Gourlay Snowfield could be described as a highly eutrophic site due to its close proximity to several penguin colonies at Gourlay Peninsula. Typically, towards the end of the season the melting snow there turns dark red due to high concentrations of growing snow algae. Tuva Glacier is an oligotrophic site with little or no development of coloured algal colonies on the surface of the snow.
To fulfill the objectives of the project we selected snow sampling sites in a grid across Tuva Glacier and Gourlay Snowfield. Additionally, to study the environments influenced by meltwater production, including the immediate coastal environment, we also regularly sampled runoff from several strategic points across the island. These included runoff from Tuva Glacier and Gourlay Snowfield, but also from an area of fellfield soil next to the station. Repeat sampling at these sites therefore captured the changing nutrient and microbial dynamics through the summer period. The locations of our fieldwork sites are presented as red dots on Fig. 1.