The ice cap on Nelson Island in the South Shetland Islands, West Antarctica, was studied between 1985 and 1989. The ice cap has an average thickness of 120 m. it is temperate, exists under the sub-Antarctic maritime climate and almost completely covers the island. Owing to intense percolation of meltwater (and, to some extent, liquid precipitation), the snow-firn layer is in the soaked facies, with a firn-ice transition at a depth of 25-26 m at the summit. A force-balance model suggests that the ice is almost linearly viscous but has a high viscosity. The model further suggests that basal sliding makes a larger contribution to the ice movement than does ice deformation. From 1970 to 1988. the average accumulation rate was 120 kg m−2a−1 at the centre, and between 1985 and 1989 the equilibrium-line elevation averaged 110m a.s.l. Analysis of chemical impurities in the surface snow suggests that the precipitation source is mainly local marine air masses and that human activity has already exerted a detectable influence on the local environment.