Antarctic Penguins in Trouble

December 27, 2001


Provided by: NOAA Photo Library
Summary authors & editors: Martin Ruzek; NSF Press Release

Enormous grounded icebergs and an unprecedented amount of sea ice in Antarctica's Ross Sea have nearly isolated one of the continent's most populous Adelie penguin colonies, making it difficult for the birds to return from their feeding grounds in the open sea. In March 2000, a series of large icebergs broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf and gradually migrated west to a point northeast of McMurdo Sound, creating a barrier that altered wind and current patterns. At this time of year, the ice edge typically extends 15 to 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, the main U.S. research station in Antarctica, located on Ross Island. However, the distance to open water is now over 30 miles, and had been 80 miles earlier in the season, greatly increasing the distance between the breeding colonies and food sources. The birds must now walk rather than swim to their colonies. At least one smaller colony will fail completely this year.

The inset above is of an Adelie penguin on the Ross Sea. The background is of first year sea ice in the Ross Sea, with a toboganning penguin in the foreground. Both photos are by Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA.

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