Tag Archives: #Shackleton

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

Records and Extremity

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The century-old photo negatives found frozen in a block of ice at an old expedition supply hut are a marvel of clarity paired with the decay of time, of endeavors lost and gained.

Left behind by the Ross Sea Party of the 1914-1917 Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the same expedition that left behind some recently discovered whisky, the negatives are a record of how we used to explore in a place that is no less inhospitable today than it was back then. The lowest temperatures, the harshest winds, the coldest waters, the deep blue seas teaming with marine life.

Big Razorback Island, McMurdo Sound. The photo was most likely taken from the deck of the Aurora in January 1915. Photo/Caption: Antarctic Heritage Trust

Big Razorback Island, McMurdo Sound.
The photo was most likely taken from the deck of the expedition ship Aurora in January 1915.
Photo/Caption: Antarctic Heritage Trust

How long has the Antarctic been a realm of dreamy extremes?

According to recent research, the aptly named Dry Hills near Taylor Valley haven’t seen rainfall in 14 million years. With the exception of the occasional snow drift, isotope- and fossil-based evidence shows that surface water has been an absent visitor to the Friis Hills, west of the the McMurdo Sound, since the area was covered in a lake and tundra mosses millions of years ago.

Did the photographer who took the rediscovered images of the beset Ross Sea Party realize that he although he was surrounded by water, he was near one of the driest places on earth?

McMurdo Sound Map: Wikipedia

McMurdo Sound
Map: Wikipedia

 

Whisky on Antarctic Ice

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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust/Associated Press

 

I’m not sure how often I will have the chance to post on a meeting of two such seemingly disparate subjects, both of which I talk about on a regular basis. Whisky, obviously. And the Antarctic. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a look at how the two are connected.

Ernest Shackleton, one of the great explorers of the South Pole, is known as much for his survival and leadership skills during disastrous expeditions as for being bested in his exploratory feats by  Roald Amundsen, who reached the South Pole ahead of Shackleton. Shackleton visited the Antarctic several times, mapped some very important points, and managed to bring home his crew alive every time, even in the face of daunting obstacles.

He also appears to have taken a good amount of whisky along on at least one of his visits, 15-year-old Mackinley that had been bottled in 1898. The whisky was abandoned in a base hut, and discovered by conservationists in 2010. The crates were frozen solid into the ice, but the researchers could hear the whisky sloshing in the bottles. Although the freezing point for 80 proof whisky is around -26 degrees Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit) and the air temperature in the Antarctic easily reaches those levels, the whisky was frozen in ice and thus stayed closer to 0 C (32 F).

The whisky was removed for examination along with other artifacts, but the original bottles now have been returned to the base hut. Shackleton himself never got back to the whisky, and died of a heart attack on his way to another expedition in 1922. He was 47. We forget sometimes the hardships and sacrifices, the glory and lack thereof, that go along with scientific exploration.

Distiller Whyte & Mackay, which bought the Mackinlay brand (Whyte & Mackay itself has been owned by an Indian conglomerate, United Breweries Group, since 2007) had a small amount of the original brew extracted via syringe to recreate the recipe. The whisky has been reissued in a limited edition of 50,000 bottles under the name Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt and sells for around $160 dollars a bottle. Does it taste like the original? We don’t know, since conservationists decided that if Shackleton couldn’t have any, neither could anyone else. In any case, a portion of the profits will go toward the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Photo: Michael Wal

Statue of Ernest Shackleton outside the Royal Geographic Society
Photo: Michael Wal