McDonald Islands are very remote and little known islands. They were first sighted exactly 157 years ago – on January 4, 1854 – from ship "Samarang" and were named after the captain William McDonald. The highest (then) hill on the island was named after ship – Samarang Hill. This is a comparatively late discovery of new lands outside polar regions.
Back then this was a group of three small islands – 186 m high McDonald Island itself, 55 m high Flat Island a little north from it and Meyer Rock – impressive cliff rising from the sea 1.9 km to the north-west from McDonald Island. By the way – Meyer Rock is barely visible on Google Earth.
Although island represented a summit of volcano, it seemed to be a relatively peaceful place with many thousands of macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) breeding on it (see image).
People have not lived here and up to this day, the island has been visited a few times. One of the main reasons for rare visits is nearly impossible landing due to permanently rough sea.
Volcano of McDonald Island was dormant for 75,000 years but in 1992 it suddenly became active. Several eruptions have taken place since then with volcanic plumes observed in December 1996 and January 1997, when floating pumice reached also Heard Island.
Especially significant changes took place in 2000 – 2001. The satellite image from November 2000 shows no major changes to the island geography. Image from 2001 though shows a completely different picture. Island has extended, mainly towards the north, joining with Flat Island. The highest point of the island has shifted to the north.
Last known eruption took place in 2005.
Island is built of layered phonolitic tuff and cut by phonolitic dikes – thus the geology here is completely different from the geology of 45 km distant Heard Island. During the eruption volcano exuded highly viscous, slowly flowing lava.
Google Earth image shows muddy water around the island – active erosion process goes on and newly extended island again is washed out. The western side of the island is exposed to rough winds and constant giant waves – it represents giant, more than 200 m tall vertical cliff.
Return of life
During the eruptions there was destroyed almost all vegetation of the island. Nevertheless, satellite images show green patches of plants – they are quickly colonizing the new land.
Most likely eruptions disturbed also macaroni penguins. But the pumice fields may represent a good breeding site for them and it is possible that also king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) will choose to breed here – or maybe they already are here.
McDonald Islands on the map
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|Location, GPS coordinates:||53.0412 S 72.5968 E|
|Where is located?||Antarctic and Sub-antarctic region, Australia, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, McDonald Island|
|Alternate names:||McDonald Islands|
Video of McDonald Islands
CSIRO, February 2016
Islands were included in UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 and represent a unique site where can be observed unusually fast geomorphological processes and unique, undisturbed ecosystem.
The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) which includes the islands and the surrounding ocean to 12 nautical miles from shore was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 for its outstanding universal natural values. The human history of Heard Island and the surrounding waters is relatively short, with the first confirmed sighting of the Island in 1853, and the first landing in 1854.