Tag Archives: Adélie penguins
The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on Earth. Around Palmer Station, the average winter temperature has risen by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years. That might sound slow in human terms, but in terms of the rate the Earth normally goes through big changes, climate change is moving like a racecar coming around a curve.
Because the Palmer area is warming so fast, people who have worked at Palmer Station for many years have had a front-row seat for these changes. Even now, clear signs of the recent warming are all around. Today we went out with Donna Fraser of the Project CONVERGE penguin team. She’s been coming to Antarctica for 25 years—click through the slideshow to see some of the examples she showed us:
Our time at Palmer Station is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, the ship that brought us here, the Laurence M. Gould, will tie up once again at our dock. There will be a frenzy of activity as the scientists pack up all of their gear, move out of their rooms, do the last of their laundry, and have their last meals in the Palmer galley. The Palmer staff and the Gould crew will spend the day loading crates of gear onto the ship, and we’ll depart on Tuesday morning.
We’ve enjoyed writing and photographing this blog immensely. While we’re on the ship, we’re going to send a wrap-up post to bring you up to date on what the scientists found at the end of their field season, and what’s next for Project CONVERGE. We’ll also do our best to answer the remaining questions that you’ve sent in—so if you’re still curious about something, please send us a comment!
Donna Fraser remembers the day in 1993 when her team found the first gentoo penguin nests ever recorded at Biscoe Point. Fourteen pairs had set up a tiny colony on the rocky headland, which lies just 8 miles from Palmer Station. Gentoos are Fraser’s favorite penguin, and her response was, “Awesome, we’ve got gentoos in our study area!” But as much as she likes them personally—“I think gentoos just make everything right with the world,” she told me—it’s been a shock to see how drastically Adelie penguins have declined while gentoos have increased in the last 20 years.
Fraser and other penguin scientists are still researching the details of this switch, but the root cause is clear. The climate around Palmer Station has become more suitable for gentoos and less suitable for Adelies—and in geological terms it’s happened quickly. Click through the slideshow to explore the gentoo arrival in more detail:
My descriptions of penguin sounds weren’t so good, but fortunately I also have recordings from a couple of the nearby colonies. Listen to them below—and then if you can think of a good way to describe the sounds, write it in the comments. We’d love to hear your descriptions.
Here’s the gentle sound of a gentoo penguin colony from Biscoe Point, recorded on Jan. 12:
And here’s the harsher sound of an Adelie penguin colony from Torgersen Island, recorded on Jan. 10:
***Mt. Shackleton was named for the great British explorer Ernest Shackleton, who nearly reached the South Pole in 1908 and who sailed into the Weddell Sea in 1914 on a ship called the Endurance. The penguin team’s Shawn Farry reminded us that today was the 100th anniversary of the day that the Endurance became trapped in sea ice, forcing Shackleton and his men to camp out on the sea ice for the winter—and that’s just the beginning of one of the greatest survival stories in Antarctic history.
The scientists spent Sunday doing maintenance on a glider, checking giant-petrel and skua nests, looking for whales, and counting krill for as long as the choppy water and the sharp south winds allowed. Dr. Josh Kohut and Dr. Matt Oliver looked nervously at the changing iceberg landscape outside our front door. Winds and currents keep reshuffling the bergs, and the team really doesn’t want to hit one with their glider.
Photographer Chris Linder has a lot less anxiety when he looks at ice. He’s photographed ice of all sizes, at all times of day, and from pretty much every angle. We thought this quiet Sunday was a fine time to show you some of what he’s seen. Click through the slideshow to explore:
In calm winds this morning we loaded the zodiacs with the safety gear we had assembled yesterday. But even as we put on our flotation suits and boarded the boats, the sky was graying and a strengthening breeze was creasing the sea. By about 10:30 a.m. it was clear it wasn’t a good day to try reaching the Wauwerman Islands.
Instead, photographer Chris Linder and I went to the Adelie penguin colony on Torgersen Island. By the afternoon the gray clouds had blown past us and we were treated to brilliant sunshine and the sight of Adelie penguins in the full swing of raising their chicks. This year, unusually deep snow in the early summer had the penguin team worried about the Adelies, which normally require bare rock in order to lay their eggs.
But somehow, the penguins kept their eggs warm even on the snow, and the Torgersen colonies are now full of plump gray chicks. Click through the slideshow for a look at how they raise their young:
A lot of science involves thinking of questions you want the answers to, and then figuring out how to get them. Many times, it requires finding a way to see something the naked eye can’t see—things that are too big, too small, too fast, too far away, or otherwise hidden from view.
That’s the problem with understanding how penguins feed their chicks. The bustling colonies around Palmer hold thousands of penguins. They’re nearly identical, and they disappear underwater when they go out to feed. To solve the problem, the CONVERGE penguin team attaches satellite transmitters to a couple of dozen penguins each season. The data that comes back tells them how far the penguins have swum and how deeply and how often they’ve dived. It’s a glimpse of the answer to the question, and every transmitter helps expand that glimpse.
In the last few days we’ve gone along with the penguin team to see how they put transmitters on penguins and how they retrieve them. Click through the slideshow to see what we learned:
The satellite transmitters send data to a satellite frequently whenever a penguin is not diving. The scientists can access the location data each day, even before they have retrieved the tags from the birds. So far this year, they’re finding that the penguins are making short trips and foraging within a few miles of their colonies, Fraser told me. Adelie penguins are capable of swimming much farther than that, so this perhaps indicates that they’re finding plenty of krill in the region near Palmer Station. The penguin team shares their detailed results with the other CONVERGE scientists so that they can decide the best places to sample for krill and to have their gliders investigate. We’ll check back in with those teams tomorrow to see what they’ve found.
Yesterday, while we were out searching for krill with Dr. Kim Bernard, we saw lots of gentoo penguins, quite a few Adelies, and several chinstraps. They were doing the same thing we were—looking for krill—although I think they were better than us at finding them. They were certainly better at catching them.
Penguins are a big part of project CONVERGE because, ultimately, we want to know whether tides and convergence zones help to bring krill together into patches that penguins use as feeding grounds. To do that, there’s a whole penguin team of four people that spend all day, every day studying where penguins go, how they raise their chicks, and what they eat.
We went out with the team today and got an introduction to the three penguin species that live in the Palmer Station area. Click through the slideshow to meet the penguins and the penguin scientists, too:
Tuesday was a day off for the staff of Palmer Station. The day was sunny and calm—perfect conditions for a favorite off-duty pastime called recreational boating. We boarded a zodiac with station staff including the carpenter, logistics supervisor, satellite communications engineer, and utility mechanic. We loaded up with sunscreen, donned sunglasses against the brilliant white light, and pulled on orange float coats for safety. Everyone had a camera at the ready, and we set off to explore icebergs and islands.
For us it was a great introduction to the animal inhabitants of Palmer Station. We saw mammals, flying birds, flightless birds, and even a small but indispensable animal that keeps the whole ecosystem ticking. Can you guess what it was? Join us on our zodiac tour in the slideshow below, and find out the answer at the end:
Because krill are at the heart of the food chain, scientists pay a lot of attention to them. Krill are also at the center of Project CONVERGE. The team wants to know whether tides and convergence zones help bring together krill into concentrations high enough to serve as feeding hotspots for penguins. Radar helps the team map the currents and convergence zones. But how do they find out where the krill are? In our next post, we’ll go out with the scientists to answer that question.