British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat - Geography

British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat - Geography

The Virgin Islands are an archipelago of more than 100 islands and cays (see Glossary) located about 95 kilometers east of Puerto Rico. The islands are politically divided into two units: the United States Virgin Islands on the west and the British Virgin Islands on the east. With a total area of 153 square kilometers, the British islands are slightly smaller than Washington, D.C., and fall into four groups: an archipelago of small islands that run southwest-northeast and end with Virgin Gorda on the east; a central group containing Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands; a western group that includes the island of Jost Van Dyke and surrounding smaller cays; and Anegada, forty-eight kilometers northeast of Virgin Gorda.

With the exception of Anegada, all of the islands are hilly or mountainous and are volcanic in origin. Slopes are rugged and rise steeply from the sea. The highest point is Tortola's Mount Sage, at 543 meters. Bare outcroppings are common, and the islands have no permanent streams. Anegada, geologically distinct from the other islands, is a flat coral island composed of limestone. The soil on all the islands is poor, consisting mostly of brown loam of volcanic origin. Anegada has little soil at all.

The British Virgin Islands' climate is tropical with a pronounced rainy season from May through November. The rain falls in short, heavy showers and averages about 125 centimeters per year. Despite the moderate rainfall, porous soils and high evaporation rates allow for only xerophytic types of vegetation, that is, plants that survive in dry, hot climates. Temperatures are fairly constant, ranging from summer maximums of 31C to winter minimums of 20C. Trade winds are constant, blowing from the northeast in winter and from the southeast in summer. Hurricanes strike occasionally from June to November.

Anguilla, in the northern Leeward Islands, lies 240 kilometers due east of Puerto Rico and 8 kilometers from St. Martin/Sint Maarten, the nearest of the Leeward Islands to the south. Anguilla is twenty-six kilometers long and six kilometers wide, at ninetyone square kilometers about half the size of Washington, D.C. It is a flat coral island, with its highest point only sixty-five meters above sea level. Scrub Island, five square kilometers in area, lies just off Anguilla's northeast end. Dog Island, smaller than Scrub Island, lies to the northwest, as do several small cays.

Anguilla's climate is tropical, with little seasonal variation. Temperatures range from 22C to 30C. Rainfall is low, averaging 100 centimeters annually, with substantial variation from year to year. Hurricanes are a threat in the summer or fall. The scant rainfall and poor soil allow for only low scrub vegetation.

The small, rugged island of Montserrat is 43 kilometers southwest of Antigua and 70 kilometers northwest of Guadeloupe. Only 11 kilometers by 18 kilometers, the pear-shaped island has an area of 102 square kilometers. Of volcanic origin, Montserrat has active sulfur vents in the mountainous south-central section. The island itself has a narrow coastal plain that rises steeply to several peaks, the highest of which, Chance Peak, reaches 915 meters. Much of central Montserrat is covered by tropical rain forest, probably the reason the island is popularly known as "the Emerald Isle."

Montserrat has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation; temperatures range from 22C to 31C. Rainfall is plentiful, ranging from 170 centimeters on the windward northeast slopes to 125 centimeters on the leeward southwest coastal areas. Hurricanes can strike during the summer or fall.

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