Posted by: Rose | October 6, 2013

Dawn Raid

I was ‘encouraged’ out of bed at 5am. Do not underestimate how unusual this is; I am not a morning person and this was most definitely still the night before. I poked my head out of the tent and confirmed that the wind had dropped. Reluctantly, I got ready to paddle, but knew, deep down, that dawn would be an idyllic time to explore the Western Rocks of Isles of Scilly.

We left Troytown campsite as the rising sun breached the top of St Agnes and were witness to the awakening of the islands’ population of shags, puffins and petrels. Our clockwise circuit of Annet and the Western Rocks took us to the very edge of the Isles. We shocked seals out of their early morning slumber and rode the surprisingly large cross swell back to St Anges in time for breakfast.

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Sunrise over St Agnes

The isolated points of the Western Rocks have not always been so lonely. During the last glacial maximum, 22,000 years ago, ice extended all the way to the Isles of Scilly from the Arctic. The sea level was significantly lower with the ‘missing’ water locked away within the vast ice sheet. In fact, the water level was so low that the ice was grinding upon bare rock; there was no sea around the Scillies!

As the climate warmed, northern Europe was gradually released from its icy grip. Melt water slowly raised the sea level, but the increase was not simply due to melting ice; the thermal expansion of the oceans also accounts for some of the increasing volume. By 4000 years ago, the Isles of Scilly were surrounded by water, but not as we know it. St Martin’s, St Mary’s, Brhyer and Tresco were one island, whilst St Agnes, Gugh and Annet were another. Around Sampson, the remains of field boundaries lie beneath the low tide mark and provide evidence for the changing topography of the Scillies. The ruined settlement on the rocky islet of Nornour was not always on the shoreline.

As the human race releases carbon dioxide from long-term storage reservoirs by burning fossil fuels, the shape of the Isles of Scilly will continue to change. The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will increase the Earth’s average temperature. We are likely to lose all the sea ice from the Arctic, but this will not change sea level since the floating ice is already displacing the same volume of water. We should be concerned about the loss of land ice. Greenland is already disintegrating at an alarming rate. The extent of the impact upon Antarctica’s vast ice sheets remains to be seen. But there is one thing that we can be sure of, and that is the Isles of Scilly are still shrinking.

Check out Mark’s blog for lots of lovely photos, here, here and here.

Post-Glacial Sea Level from Wikimedia Commons

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Dawn light, St Agnes

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Heading back for breakfast. Photo by Mark Rainsley.

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Causeway between St Agnes and Gugh. Its days are numbered.

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Standing stone on St Agnes

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Baking cake and applying nail polish. Who says sea kayakers aren’t glam?

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Nornour settlement

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Eastern Rocks from St Martin’s

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Stained glass in All Saint’s Church, Bryher

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Not bad for a week of many winds

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