Bouvetøya (Bouvet Island)

Bouvetøya (Bouvet Island) is a Norwegian island in the Southern Ocean. The island is located 2200 kilometers south of South Africa and 1600 kilometers from Gough Island. Bouvetøya is one of the most isolated islands in the world, and 93 percent of the island is covered by glaciers. Bouvetøya is the Norwegian claim area in the seethe of the polar regions we have the most knowledge about, and the Norwegian Polar Institute has regular expeditions there.

Map of Bouvetøya

Bouvetøya. Map: Norwegian Polar Institute

Bouvetøya is located at 54° 25' S, 3° 21' E, 2200 kilometres south of South Africa, 1600 kilometres from Gough Island and 1700 kilometres north of the coast of Queen Maud Land. The island is not part of Antarctica, which is defined as the area south of 60 °S.

Snowcovered glaciers

Bouvetøya is almost completely covered by glaciers. Photo: Martin Biuw / Norwegian Polar Institute

Bouvetøya seen from sea, covered by snow

Bouvetøya is located at 54° 25' S, 3° 21' E in the Southern Ocean, 2200 kilometres south of South Africa, 1600 kilometres from Gough Island and 1700 kilometres north of the coast of Queen Maud Land. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Bouvetøya has a volcanic origin since it is the summit of a volcano that sticks out of the South Atlantic Ocean close to the end of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in a part of the ocean that is often referred to as the Southern Ocean. The last volcanic eruption on Bouvetøya took place a very long time ago, but emission of volcanic gases has been recorded in modern times, too. In 1978, a temperature of 25 °C was measured 30 cm below the surface.

The geology of Bouvetøya

The island measures only 49 square kilometres, and is almost entirely covered by ice. Steep cliffs on all sides of the island make it extremely difficult to go ashore there. Olavtoppen, 780 metres above sea level, is the highest peak on the island.

Bouvetøya was discovered by a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Lozier Bouvet, as early as 1739, but many years passed before it was rediscovered. The first of a series of Norwegian expeditions to Antarctica took place in 1927-28. It was funded by Lars Christensen. The expedition vessel was named "Norvegia", so the expeditions have since been known as the "Norvegia" expeditions. They went ashore on 1 December 1927, hoisted the Norwegian flag and claimed Bouvet Island as Norwegian territory. The United Kingdom disagreed since it had claimed sovereignty as early as 1825. Following some diplomatic activity, Britain waived its claim in 1929.

A Norwegian Act was passed in 1930 which defined Bouvetøya as a Norwegian dependency. Based on long-established practice, the territory was recognised by the international community as Norwegian territory, and this is not disputed. The territory is north of, and falls outside, the geographical area covered by the Antarctic Treaty.

Bouvetøya has a maritime Antarctic climate. Westerly winds dominate the area, but the wind strength is not particularly great. The average temperature at sea level is around -1 °C, and the monthly average is about 1 °C in January and -3 °C in September. The island is usually shrouded by cloud or dense fog. By a fluke, a Norwegian expedition in 1985 experienced completely clear skies long enough to photograph the entire island with a view to making a map.

Mosses and lichens dominate the modest vegetation on Bouvetøya; fungi and algae are also present. The animal life on the island is dominated by seals, penguins and other seabirds that breed in colonies. There are large colonies of Antarctic fur seals on the island and some elephant seals. Twelve species of birds breed on the island. Hunting of fur seals was banned in 1929, and in 1935 all the seal species in the area were protected. Bouvetøya and its territorial waters were designated a nature reserve in 1971, thus ensuring the rich and characteristic plant and animal life on the island full protection.

Research activity on the island

Elephant seals fitted with satellite transmitters obtained unique climate data, including the temperature, salinity and depth of the sea, which researchers relied upon during the MEOP (Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole) project in the International Polar Year in 2007-2008.
Video: Norwegian Polar Institute
tent camp on rocks

The camp on Bouvetøya during the Polar Year in 2007-2008. Photo: Martin Biuw, Norwegian Polar Institute Photo: Martin Biuw / Norwegian Polar Institute

Bouvetøya is part of an international environmental monitoring network, and the Norwegian Polar Institute undertakes regular expeditions to the island.

Three huts were set up on the island in connection with a research expedition in 1979, but they disappeared later. A new building (actually containers equipped as a research station) was erected in 1996 to be used by scientists visiting the island. When scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute came to Bouvetøya in the late autumn of 2007, the area where the research station and a weather station had stood had been swept into the sea. The expedition members therefore had to set up a new camp elsewhere on the island. In January 2014, a new, well-equipped research station was set up, and the Polar Institute can once more perform research and monitoring on the island.

Nature reserve

Bouvetøya and its territorial waters were protected in 1971, and this is the most remote nature reserve in the world. All activity and traffic on the island is strictly regulated. Among other things, the Regulation prohibits all forms of physical encroachment, ensures the protection of the flora and fauna, and prohibits traffic and waste disposal.

Specific regulation of traffic in the Nyrøysa area, where CCAMLR monitoring takes place, has also been introduced. Direct human influence must be avoided in this area to ensure the best possible monitoring results.

Bouvetøya Nature Reserve

Seal and penguin populations

Three seals

One of the fur seal families on Bouvetøya. Photo: Martin Biuw / Norwegian Polar Institute

The fur seal colony in the monitoring area at Nyrøysa increased from 7900 individuals to as many as 65 000 individuals between 1990 and 1997. The population seems to have stabilised since then, probably due to a lack of suitable areas.

In the same period, there was a considerable decline in the penguin colonies, especially involving the chinstrap penguins. In 1990, 2700 and 5900 chinstrap and macaroni penguins, respectively, were recorded, but in 1997 these numbers were reduced to 422 and 4700. Here, too, only small changes seem to have occurred since 2000.

The changes in the penguin populations are probably linked to the big increase in the fur seal population, the seals having taken over penguin territory. Fur seals are growing in numbers throughout Antarctica, and the population seems to have recovered after the species ceased to be hunted.

Several of the Red Listed species covered by the ACAP-avtalen (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) are found around Bouvetøya. Only one of these, the southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), has been recorded breeding on the island.