Tag Archives: #Antarctica

Clepsydra Elegy

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It should come as no surprise that one of the earliest tools humans used to tell time was water. After all, it’s what we are, what we need to live.

A clepsydra is an ancient clock system that, at its most basic, uses two bowls, one nested inside another. The outer bowl is filled with water; the empty inner bowl has a hole at the bottom which allows a controlled flow of water to seep in.

Ancient Persian clock in Qanats of Gonabad Zibad. Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

Ancient Persian clock in qanats of Gonabad, Zibad.
Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

Once the inner bowl has filled with water, it is emptied and placed on the surface of the water again until it sinks.

Timekeepers as early as 500 BC kept an eye on the water flowing from one bowl to another to determine fair distribution of irrigation resources between farmers (in ancient Persia, by using water channels known as qanats). Needless to say, the position of timekeeper was important, and subject to oversight by other village elders to ensure parity.

Ancient water clock used in qanat of gonabad 2500 years ago. Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

Ancient water clock used in qanat of Gonabad 2500 years ago.
Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

We’ve had a water clock of sorts on a planetary scale for as long as long as humans have recorded history, and beyond.

We call them glaciers. They rise, they retreat. The bowls are biggest at the two poles, and for the duration of what we know as human civilization, the Arctic and the Antarctic have been keeping time over the procession of the seasons and climate that have allowed our species to farm and flourish.

It’s only recently, over the past century or so, that we have realized these clocks are not static. They are what water always is: in a state of flux. We’ve known for decades that the melting of the ice at the two poles could spell a new era, one in which the inner bowl of the clepsydra stays submerged and our measure of time is changed.

The level of Arctic sea ice is, once again this year, at its lowest recorded level.

What we need, maybe, are more vigilant timekeepers.

Here’s one of my current playlist videos, performed against the backdrop of calving Arctic ice. An elegy is a lament for something that has already passed away – let’s do everything we can to work against that scenario for the Arctic.
Listen for the crash at the beginning:

 

The Dire End of the Bandit 6

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Pirates, those outlaws of the high seas, have held a blurred fascination for generations. They share the allure of an in-between realm with horseback bandits, a place free of everyday rules and constricted spaces. Who doesn’t fantasize, from time to time at least, about being outside the drudgery of convention?

Just exactly who the pirates are, though, depends on whose rules they are breaking.

Pirate ship from a children's book. Image: thegraphicfairy

Pirate ship from a children’s book.
Image: thegraphicfairy

For years, the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been considered piratical by the ships and governments they follow and attack. Mainly, by whalers and nations that still permit whaling. And, to a lesser extent, by the allies of these countries. The Sea Shepherd’s logo plays with their self-image as pirates who challenge laws that protect those who hunt endangered marine species.

Back in 2014, the Sea Shepherd began Operation Icefish, a project to chase down and defeat another group that many would call pirates: The Bandit 6, a group of industrial fishing ships that regularly flouted international law by illegally fishing on a grand scale.

By sailing between the loopholes of international fishing regulations, frequently changing registries and flags, and leveraging conflicts between the nations that might have otherwise joined forces to stop them, the ghost ships of the Bandit 6 spent years plundering fish stocks of the Patagonian toothfish, otherwise known as Chilean sea bass.

Patagonian toothfish. Image: Reuters

Patagonian toothfish.
Image: Reuters

The Sea Shepherd mission saw the longest sea chase in recorded history – 110 days – which resulted in the captain of the Thunder scuttling his ship to bury evidence of its activities. Scuttling is such a fun-sounding word for sinking the ship in deep waters and then calling on its Sea Shepherd pursuers to rescue the captain and crew according to maritime convention and law.

The Bandit 6 ships weren’t under attack because the Patagonian toothfish is endangered. At issue was the fact that the vessels, their owners and their buyers operated without accountability. Moreoever, it appears that at least some of the vessels were using slave labor to man their ships and process the catch. It’s estimated that the pirate ships hauled over six times the legal fishing limits of the so-called ‘white gold’ on an annual basis since the late 1990s.

So, as of yesterday, the Viking, the final ship in the loose fleet of the Bandit 6, was blown up by the Indonesian government off the coast of West Java.

Destruction of the Viking. Screenshot/Image: Sea Shepherd

Destruction of the Viking.
Screenshot/Image: Sea Shepherd/YouTube

It follows the scuttling of the Thunder, the capture of the Songhua and Yongding in Cabo Verde as well as the detaining of the Perlon in Malaysia.

The Sea Shepherd organization was instrumental in notifying authorities of the ships’ whereabouts, and obtaining evidence to implicate their captains. In the case of the Thunder, this involved Sea Shepherd crew members boarding the ship as it sank to retrieve the ship log and frozen catch, the very things the captain had hoped to put out of reach.

Since 2014, Indonesia has bombed 150 foreign-owned fishing ships accused of poaching, a policy meant to stop illegal fishing and promote the local fishing industry.

The wreck of the Viking is to be left as a monument against illegal fishing and a warning to the pirates currently known as illegal fishing poachers.

Winged hourglass and skull and crossbones. Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland, UK. Photo: Leo Reynolds/Flickr

Winged hourglass and skull and crossbones.
Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
Photo: Leo Reynolds/Flickr

 

Fading Indelibility

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Old habits die hard. So, it turns out, do new ones.

Back when I was living in Japan, I had a friend who was born near Tokyo in the 1950s. His family wasn’t poor, but with the scarcity of protein that Japan faced for many years after World War II, he grew up eating whale meat. He told me that while he hadn’t particularly liked it, and no longer ate it, it had a taste for him of childhood nostalgia.

Kuniyoshi print of fisherman. Source: printsofJapan

Kuniyoshi print of fishermen.
Source: printsofJapan

According to an article on the BBC web site, large-scale Japanese whaling only began after the war, at the encouragement and with the support of the U.S. military. While the Japanese whaling culture goes back hundreds of years, in contrast to the American whaling for oil, traditional Japanese whaling made use of the entire animal, and it was mostly at a subsistence level.

Whaling increased during the 1930s, but long-distance Antarctic whaling only started once the U.S. helped the Japanese convert two Navy tankers into whaling factory ships to meet food demand.

So while I was eating hamburgers and chicken and fish and chips and spaghetti, kids my age in Japan were eating whale meat. Not because it was an age-old tradition across the entire country, but because it was an immediate solution to the aftermath of war, a solution created by a winning army used to doing things on an industrial scale.

Whaling Scene on the Coast of Gotō. An ukiyoe by Hokusai. Circa 1830. Via: Wikipedia

Whaling Scene on the Coast of Gotō. An ukiyoe by Hokusai. Circa 1830.
Via: Wikipedia

When I was in Japan – around 25 years ago – everyone was eating hamburgers and chicken and fish and chips and spaghetti in addition to their udon and ramen and fish. Then as now, there was no need for cheap protein, especially not protein as heavily subsidized as whale meat. I saw whale meat for sale my very first day in Tokyo at the Tsukiji fish market, and was shocked – but I was told that almost no one bought the stuff, it was a specialty item.

But the people, the men in particular, who grew up in the post-war era, are now the men who fill many bureaucratic and political positions across Japan. And they have an appetite for both nostalgia, and for the whale meat of their youth. And not just for its taste, but for what it does.

Even as the consumption for whale meat has been in steep decline in the country as a whole, and even as whaling is condemned internationally, the Japanese continue to hunt whales in the name of ‘scientific research’ and we often find ourselves wondering why.

Japanese whale tattoo. Source: Pinterest

Japanese whale tattoo.
Source: Pinterest

The BBC article concludes that the reason the Japanese still hunt whale is simple: During the post-war period, a bureaucracy grew up around whale meat.

It quotes former Greenpeace researcher Junko Sakuma as stating the simple political reasons for continued whaling: “Japan’s whaling is government-run, a large bureaucracy with research budgets, annual plans, promotions and pensions.

“If the number of staff in a bureaucrat’s office decreases while they are in charge, they feel tremendous shame.

“Which means most of the bureaucrats will fight to keep the whaling section in their ministry at all costs. And that is true with the politicians as well. If the issue is closely related to their constituency, they will promise to bring back commercial whaling. It is a way of keeping their seats.”

Japanese whale tattoo. Source: Pinterest

Japanese whale tattoo.
Source: Pinterest

This comment made me wonder: How many practices that we call conventional yet unsustainable, from pesticide use to forestry practices to livestock treatment to fossil fuel dependency, are the result of the same kind of thinking?

We know the practices don’t work in the long-term, the appetite for them is decreasing, and they don’t date back as far as we’d like to think. In fact, in almost all cases, the practices we now know are unsustainable only date back to the post-WWII era.

Like the stale bureaucracy around Japanese whaling, we’ve built an entire world economy around them, as if they are all indelibly inked into our future as well as our past.

 

 

Patch Job

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A study published earlier this year pointed to a decrease in the size of the ozone hole over the Antarctic.

This healing process indicates the success of the Montreal Protocol, the 1989 treaty intended to limit the production and use of ozone-harming chemicals.

Ratified by all United Nations Members, as well as Niue, the Cook Islands, the Holy See and the European Union, it’s been hailed as “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.” (Kofi Annan)

Ten Circles - magnolia leaf crotched with cotton yarn Artist: Susanna Bauer

Ten Circles – magnolia leaf crotched with cotton yarn
Artist: Susanna Bauer

It’s worth noting that the movement to reduce the production and use of gases that affect the ozone layer came long before ‘scientific consensus’ was actually reached.

Like the discussion surrounding carbon emissions and climate change, scientists who argued for a reduction in chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production and use (mainly for refrigeration purposes and aerosol spray propellant) faced an array of opposition.

One, Two, Three Artist: Susanna Bauer

One, Two, Three
Artist: Susanna Bauer

DuPont held the patent for Freon, a CFC widely used around the world, but one which was losing profitability. The company put up aggressive arguments against any regulation of CFC production for several years – while searching for replacement alternatives.

The publication of ozone hole images in the 1980s focused public attention on the issue, just around the time DuPont felt it had found viable gas alternatives and the Freon patent had expired.

DuPont switched course, became an active supporter of CFC limitation and a strong proponent of international action. It also earned itself a reputation as a company concerned with the environmental impact of its products. (It bears mentioning that most of the alternative products also count as harmful greenhouse gases with varying levels of atmospheric toxicity.)

Common Ground (II) Artist: Susanna Bauer

Common Ground (II)
Artist: Susanna Bauer

The Montreal Protocal was the result of a rare confluence of public opinion, environmental interests and corporate action. Corporate and government reluctance to limit CFC production was otherwise similar to today’s climate change discussion.

In the end, it always seems to come down to habits, inertia and money (or lack thereof) on the one side, and an amassing of scientific proof and activism on the other.

Moon (II) Artist: Susanna Bauer

Moon (II)
Artist: Susanna Bauer

Perhaps what the Montreal Protocol really had going for it was the image of the hole in the atmosphere, a singular lens that could focus attention, fears, research and opinion.

It’s profoundly encouraging that the positive effects of an international treaty on a large-scale environmental challenge can be measured in a relatively short span of time.

Here’s hoping this visible progress can impact the usual cost-benefit conversations when it comes to climate change negotiations.

Images of the Antarctic ozone hole. If current trends continue, the hole is expected to close by 2040. Images/graphic: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Business Insider

Images of the Antarctic ozone hole. If current trends continue, the hole is expected to close by 2040.
Images/graphic: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Business Insider

 

Cold Case

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Melting ice cores. Source: Jacquelyn Hams/PolarTrec

Melting ice cores.
Source: Jacquelyn Hams/PolarTrec

It might seem like the project to take ice to Antarctica is the very definition of redundancy. Like taking coal to Newcastle or turning on the lawn sprinkler while it’s raining.

But this ice endeavor is more like trying to archive some of the world’s most ancient books even as the ink rapidly vanishes from all the pages.

Ice from the world’s glaciers contains a wealth of information about the planet’s history.

Samples taken from glaciers around the world can be used to create computer models of past climates and how the climate has changed over time. Many samples have been taken at sites in Antarctica and Greenland – but far fewer have been analyzed at the various glaciers around the world.

A picture of a thin section of glacier ice placed between two crossed polarizers. The different orientation of the individual crystals shows up as colour differences. The ice itself is clear. Caption/Image: Centre of Ice & Climate, Univ. of Copenhagen

A picture of a thin section of glacier ice placed between two crossed polarizers. The different orientation of the individual crystals shows up as colour differences. The ice itself is clear.
Caption/Image: Centre of Ice & Climate, Univ. of Copenhagen

Comparing polar ice, which can be hundreds of the thousands of years old, to glacial ice from mountains can reveal the impact of human activity.

CO2, human-generated pollutants, pollen: Whether it’s on the Andes, the Alps, the Rocky Mountains, or the Himalayas, whatever was in the air and water when a glacial layer formed is trapped and frozen in place – at least, until the ice melts.

And as everyone knows by now, the ice is melting.

“In some of the warmer areas of the world the surface water is starting to melt. It then trickles all the way through the ice, taking with it the information from the surface so it’s smearing out any record that we might be able to take from the past,” Robert Mulvaney, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey, explained to the BBC.

A drilling tent set-up at the Dôme mountain pass, at an altitude of 4,250m, on the summit of Mont Blanc. In 2016, ice cores will be collected from there and transported to Antarctica for storage.  Photo: Bruno Jourdain, LGGE/OSUG/UJF

A drilling tent set-up at the Dôme mountain pass, at an altitude of 4,250m, on the summit of Mont Blanc. In 2016, ice cores will be collected from there and transported to Antarctica for storage.
Photo: Bruno Jourdain, LGGE/OSUG/UJF

The first ice cores will come from the Col du Dome, a glacier research site that sits at 4350 m (14,200 ft), just below the summit of Mont Blanc in France. The French National Centre for Scientific Research, part of the new ice storage project, measured temperatures inside the Col du Dome glacier in 1994 and again in 2005, and found a rise of 1.5°C.

Commercial freezer storage would be an interim option, but in the long-term, could be prohibitive in terms of cost as well as the potential for disastrous power failures.

The new Antarctic archive for glacial cores is set to be established at the Concordia Research Station, a French-Italian base that is manned year-round.

The archive itself will consist of ice cores sealed in bags, and stored in a giant frozen trench 10 m below the surface at a steady temperature of -50°C.

The hope is that this will keep the archive safe for future research over the course of the next decades and perhaps even centuries.

Air bubbles (left) and ice crystals (right) in an ice core sample. Source: USGS

Air bubbles (left) and ice crystals (right) in an ice core sample.
Source: USGS

Of course, the main challenge to the project – besides warming glaciers – is funding. The glacier archiving project, by definition, will not be yielding the kind of short-term results so popular among funding agencies and governments.

In a way, it’s fitting that the focus on short-term results and benefits is the main hurdle to keeping the glacier ice cores cold – after all, a focus on short-term benefits and profits is part of why the glaciers are rapidly melting in the first place.

 

 

Antarctic Shiver

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Everyone knows the best scare stories are those in which the most obvious and visible danger turns out to less dire than an unsuspected peril revealed only later, the deadfall that sends a shiver down the listener’s spine.

We’ve all heard about the Antarctic ice shelf melt-off that’s been taking place with increasing speed and frequency. But at least there was always a comforting swathe of East Antarctica, the thick part that wasn’t floating like a massive ice cube in a warming drink.

The Totten Glacier catchment basin (blue outline) is three-quarters the size of Texas and holds the ice and snow that flows through the glacier. Credit: Australian Antarctic Division via LiveScience

The Totten Glacier catchment basin (blue outline) is three-quarters the size
of Texas and holds the ice and snow that flows through the glacier.
Credit: Australian Antarctic Division via LiveScience

As it turns out, what lies beneath a large part of East Antarctica is not, as previously thought, solid earth. Rather, it appears that there might be water flowing through large subsea troughs, regions of the seabed that slope away from the ice above, allowing warmer water to melt the largest ice sheet in the world from below.

Most research to date has focused on West Antarctica. An international team of scientists carried out the study, published in Nature Geoscience, to investigate why satellite images seemed to show that the Totten Glacier was growing thinner.

Carrying out measurements by plane flyovers, the resulting cartography indicated the presence of invisible valleys and warm water carried there by heavy salt concentrations.

The aircraft that researchers flew over East Antarctica to map Totten Glacier. Credit: Chad Greene via LiveScience

The aircraft that researchers flew over East Antarctica to map Totten Glacier.
Credit: Chad Greene via LiveScience

The ice is 480 m (1600 ft) thick in some places. To get to the bottom of the ice from the height of a plane, three methods were used: gravitational measurements, radar and laser altimetry.

The radar was used to measure the thickness of the ice. Gravitational pull on the plane was measured at various points to determine the location of the seafloor beneath the ice.

The next step will be to send down underwater to verify initial study results and monitor activity of Circumpoloar Deep Water at the base of the glacier.

Actually, like turning on all the lights after the end of a good scary story, the next step for me will be to remind myself that if and when the sea rises to Pliocene Epoch levels, we might have had time to develop more effective ways of living with a lot of water in places where there is now land.

I also recommend a visit this other, more benign exploration into how ice behaves, the Icicle Atlas. I think the images of icicles forming look a bit like shivers running down a spine:

 

A clip from the wonderful Icicle Atlas, a creation of Stephen Morris at the Physics Department at the University of Toronto that explores how icicles form. A visit to the Rogue's Gallery of icicles is a mesmerizing and informative trip. Source: Icicle Atlas/Univ. of Toronto

A clip from the wonderful Icicle Atlas, a creation of Stephen Morris at the Physics Department at the University of Toronto that explores how icicles form. A visit to the Rogue’s Gallery of icicles is a mesmerizing and informative trip.
Source: Icicle Atlas/Univ. of Toronto

Toothfish Piracy

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*Update below (July 29).

There are a couple of cinema-worthy chase scenes going on right now, all located in the Southern Ocean.

The New Zealand navy is currently chasing two ships sailing under the flag of Equatorial Guinea for illegal fishing, and a Sea Shepherd vessel has been chasing a Nigerian trawler, the Thunder, since December 17. The Sea Shepherd chase, over 1000 nautical miles at this point, has already broken the record for longest documented sea chase. And it’s not over.

So, what’s at the heart of this high seas drama?

Fish Artist: Si Scott

Fish
Artist: Si Scott

A deep-sea fish that was once deemed bland, ugly and unmarketable. It got its commercial start as a base for fish sticks. Later, its lack of overtly fishy flavor was turned to culinary advantage because chefs could do almost anything to it; what it lacked in strong flavor it made up for in flaky white flesh.

The Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) was renamed the Chilean sea bass by an American fish merchant in 1977, and became truly popular in haute cuisine during the 1990s. Also known as White Gold, the fish otherwise known as toothfish can currently be found on the menus of high-end restaurants mainly in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Since luxury markets combined with scarcity usually mean high prices for a product, illegal fisheries have been chasing the toothfish for years now.

Patagonian toothfish Source: National Marine Fisheries Service

Patagonian toothfish
Source: National Marine Fisheries Service

A number of international initiatives were undertaken to protect the toothfish, an animal integral to a number of ecosystems. It reproduces slowly and has a long life span – up to 50 years, two factors that make it vulnerable to overfishing.

For me, the Patagonian toothfish, together with the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) also sold as Chilean sea bass, exemplify how difficult it can be to be a responsible consumer.

In the early 2000s, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU) was estimated to account for up to 80% of all toothfish that was harvested. Recommendations to avoid Chilean sea bass in stores and restaurants have been cautiously revised because of the success of programs in fighting IUU fishing. The Marine Stewardship Council offers certification for sustainably fished toothfish, and provides possible purchase points.

And yet, we have two groups, a national navy and an environmental organization, in pursuit of industrial-scale operations fishing for what will be sold as Chilean sea bass. The poachers obviously have reliable markets to whom they can sell.

Chilean sea bass with the MSC label can generally be bought with confidence, but how often do we ask our restaurant servers or fishmongers whether the fish they are serving is appropriately labeled?

Levels of toothfish over-fishing (2013). Click on the image for a larger view. Source: Rochelle Price

Levels of toothfish over-fishing (2013).
Dark grey=quota levels, Red=estimated IUU catch. Click on the image for a larger view.
Source: Rochelle Price

 

* The Sea Shepherd’s spectacular chase only ended in April, with the crew of the Thunder allegedly sinking their own ship to destroy evidence – and then being rescued by crew members of the Sea Shepherd’s two pursuing ships. A riveting article in the New York Times provides more detail than I can here, and I encourage taking the time to read it.

The ships being pursued by the New Zealand navy have been found in Thailand and Cape Verde, respectively – renamed and reflagged.

 

Weaving a New Mantle

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Moving at a glacial pace is how we’ve always described something so sluggish as to be practically immobile. Geological time is what we sometimes say when we talk about things that take forever to occur, at least when using the yardstick of human life spans.

The Earth’s mantle, that layer between the outer core of the planet and the surface, is mostly solid and we like to think of it that way.

But in what we consider geological time, it moves like a thick liquid. As it turns out, though, it moves a little more quickly than that, especially when a tectonic plate is sinking or rising. Sometimes at speeds 20-30 times faster than expected.

Embroidering the Earth's Mantle Artist: Remedios Varo

Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle (1961)
Artist: Remedios Varo

And then there’s the news that the ice of the Antarctic is melting faster than expected, great chunks of it breaking off and raising the sea level like to many ice cubes added to a glass of water.

What’s happening to the land that’s been beneath the ice all this time? What happens when the weight of eons is lifted and dispersed? The land rises.

However, the land is rising at a pace that is not very glacial. The land ‘rebound’ was expected to move in geological time. Instead, according to a recent study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters,  it’s moving so quickly that researchers can chart its rise of over 15 mm (0.59 in.) per year using GPS. In some areas, the uplift could reach 47 mm (1.85 in.).

The cause is thought to be temperature or chemical changes in the composition to the Earth’s mantle, making it ‘runnier’ beneath the Antarctic than elsewhere.

The climate change we fashion in human time nudges the hand of the planetary clock to speeds we might just be able to see with the human eye.

 

 

Floating Seafloor

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Floating Seafloor
A vast community of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf. Photo: Frank Rack

Glowing ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf.
Photo: Frank Rack

In 2010, a research team for the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program (ANDRILL) was working off the Ross Ice Shelf, deploying a remote-controlled submersible robot beneath the ice to investigate south pole water currents. A deep hole (850 ft / 259 m) was drilled in the ice, the robot plopped into the water below, and then it happened.

Where the researchers expected to be looking at open water and currents, they found an entirely unexplored ecosystem attached to the underside of the ice.

Anemones, marine worms, amphipods, and a previously unknown creatures simply dubbed ‘the eggroll’. Anemones, which are usually known for burrowing into sand, are not known for living on ice. The entire underside of the ice shelf was inhabited as if it were an upside-down sea floor.

The engineering project had become a different creature itself, a voyage of evolutionary exploration.

It’s an excellent reminder that sometimes the best way to discover the unexpected is to go in search of something else.

Close-up of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside Photo: Frank Rack

Close-up of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside
Photo: Frank Rack

Original study: Daly M, Rack F, Zook R (2013) Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083476

Social Climbers

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Emperor Penguin colony. The adults are the size of a large dog.
Credit: Zibordi / Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA

The Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is big, as birds go, and as graceful underwater as it is ungainly on land. Its native habitat is Antarctica, and until recently, the bird has been considered ‘sea-ice obligate’, meaning it breeds and forages from sea-ice platforms.

The species hasn’t been considered under threat for time being, but given the changes that are occurring in its one and only habitat and the increasing instability of sea ice platforms, most long-term predictions are less than optimistic.

The Emperor likes to nest at the same sites year after year, and those sites do not always oblige any more by appearing in a timely manner.

However, the Emperor Penguin’s strong preference for keeping a regular breeding address might be matched by an unexpected adaptability in another area: its previously unknown climbing skills and its willingness to try something new.

Emperor Penguins on the edge of the Larsen Ice Shelf near the Jason Peninsula late in the breeding season. Note the ice cliff which is probably an insurmountable barrier to the adult emperor penguins. No evident route to the colony was determined from the images. Caption/Photo: Fretwell et al. / Ian Potten

Emperor Penguins on the edge of the Larsen Ice Shelf near the Jason Peninsula late in the breeding season. Note the ice cliff which is probably an insurmountable barrier to the adult emperor penguins. No evident route to the colony was determined from the images.
Caption/Photo: Fretwell et al. / Ian Potten

A new study has shown that there are colonies of Emperor Penguins that have reacted to the unreliability of sea ice in their usual spots by relocating to a higher elevation on a permanent ice shelf. It seems that thousands of penguins, rather than look for new sea ice platforms, instead trekked up sloping ice creeks and gullies to safer locations.

This doesn’t mean the species isn’t threatened by climate change in the long run.

Rather, it’s a surprising and positive illustration of adaptation to rapidly changing conditions.

Source:

Fretwell PT, Trathan PN, Wienecke B, Kooyman GL (2014) Emperor Penguins Breeding on Iceshelves. PLoS ONE 9(1): e85285. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085285