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Diego Garcia island, Indian Ocean

September 1st, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Diego Garcia is a 17 square mile (22 square km) atoll located in the heart of the Indian Ocean, some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) south of India's southern coast. It is the largest of fifty-two islands which form the Chagos Archipelago. It is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a British overseas territory. Since the depopulation of Diego Garcia in the years leading up to 1973, it has been used as a military base by the United States. Diego Garcia hosts one of three ground antennas (others are on Kwajalein and Ascension Island) that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational system.

The atoll is now covered in luxuriant tropical vegetation, with little sign left of the copra and coconut plantations that once covered it. The island is 37 miles (60 km) long, with a maximum elevation of 22 feet (7 m), and nearly encloses a lagoon some 12 miles long (19 km) and up to 5 miles (8 km) wide. Depths in the lagoon range from 65 to 98 feet (20-30 m), while numerous coral heads extend toward the surface and form hazards to navigation. Shallow reefs surround the island on the ocean side as well as within the lagoon. The channel and anchorage area are dredged, while the old turning basin can also be used if depth is sufficient for ship type. In the quiet waters of the lagoon, brilliantly coloured tropical fish are abundant.

Annual rainfall averages 102 inches (260 cm) with the heaviest precipitation occurring from October to February, though even the driest month (August) averages 4.2 inches (10 cm). Temperatures are generally close to 30 °C (high 80s Fahrenheit) by day, falling to the low 20s °C (70°F) by night. Humidity is high throughout the year. However the almost constant breezes keep conditions reasonably comfortable.

Diego Garcia is at risk from tropical cyclones. The surrounding topography is low and does not provide an extensive wind break. However since the 1960s, the island has not been seriously affected by a severe tropical cyclone, even though it has often been threatened. The maximum sustained wind associated with a tropical cyclone in the period 1970-2000 at Diego Garcia has been approximately 40 knots (75 km/h).

The island and base were unaffected by the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Service personnel on the island reported only a minor increase in wave activity. The island was protected by its favourable ocean topography. East of the atoll lies the 400-mile (650 km) long Chagos Trench, an underwater canyon plunging more than 16,000 feet (4,900 m). The depth of the trench and its grade to the shore makes it difficult for tsunami to build before passing the atoll. In addition, undersea coral reefs may have dissipated much of the waves' impact.

On November 30, 1983 a magnitude 7 earthquake 34 miles (55 km) northwest of the island spawned a small tsunami resulting in a 5 foot (1.5 m) rise in wave height in the Diego Garcia lagoon, causing some damage to buildings, piers and the runway.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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