Macdonald Islands

As I was going to lunch the day we were due to reach Heard Island, I ran into someone who asked me if I'd gone and looked at the Macdonald Islands, which we were passing. The weather was fairly average out, but I decided I'd like to have a look. Out in the mist I could make out the islands, and I was a bit dissappointed we couldn't get a closer look.

The next day I heard a story that the Macdonald Islands had shown signs of being active, a volcano. I had noticed spray at the base of cliffs, but it looked very much like spray from a blow hole. It had fairly regular intervals, and there was some swell. Well this was apparently steam, or maybe I didn't see the side with all the steam. But the only way for it to be confirmed was for someone to fly back and look. There were a few people on board that would do anything to get chopper jollies, so it sounded a bit sus. Since the ship was on such a stupidly tight schedule there was no way to spare the chopper anyway.

Other views of the Macdonald Islands

Antarctica Division Press Release


29 March 1997

On the way home one of the news papers in the mess ran a story of the erupting Macdonald Islands. I since seen this story in national papers and it has taken the form of fact. Maybe there is more evidence than a glimpse of steam/spray through lots of haze at some distance. I don't think we'll be sure till someone goes and looks.

Aurora Australis returns to Hobart today with news of a possible new volcano in Australia's  remote subantarctic Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands. Signs of a possible second volcano were seen by the scientific research party aboard the ship when it visited Heard Island. Steam, possibly occurring as a result of volcanic activity, was sighted at the northern end of McDonald Island during a research program at Heard Island, 38 km to the east, earlier this month. Heard Island is recognised as home to Australia's only active volcano, Big Ben, 2745 m high. A party of geologists aboard the ship were investigating Big Ben's present level of activity. Professor Pat Quilty, Chief Scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division and Voyage Leader aboard Aurora Australis, said that when the ship was offshore from McDonald Island, signs of what seemed to be "low volcanic activity" had been seen at the Island's northern end. Observing the Island from about 8 km off shore, the team saw steam possibly emanating from volcanic vents or from water evaporating from the still-warm surface of a lava flow."The occurrence deserves further study. It is consistent with an eruption that occurred in the area in December 1992, producing green pumice which washed up on Heard Island beaches," Prof. Quilty said. "If documented, this eruption would indicate that Australia has two eruptive centres, both requiring documentation," he said. The party's investigation of Big Ben on Heard Island was adversely affected by Heard Island's notorious cloudiness, which meant it was unable to ascertain whether volcanic eruption was occurring. The members of the 1997 party conducted a small ceremony at Atlas Cove on Heard Island, site of the first Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition station established 50 years ago. The ceremony marked the achievements of Australian men and women who have journeyed to Antarctica and subantarctic regions in the cause of science.

Media information - Professor Quilty will be available for interview following arrival of the Aurora Australis in Hobart Saturday 29 March. The ship is expected to berth at Macquarie Wharf No 5 at 1800 hours.

Tina Maher
Public Relations Officer
Australian Antarctic Division
Channel Highway
Kingston, Tasmania, 7050

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