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Giant icebergs, unprecedented ice conditions threaten Antarctic penguin colonies

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, according to researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The numbers of Adelie penguins at Cape Crozier, about 130,000 breeding pairs in most years, "are at the low side" of the normal range, said David Ainley of H.T. Harvey & Associates of San Jose, California. A smaller colony of Adelies at Cape Royds will "fail totally" this year, he added.

Meanwhile, a small colony of about 1,200 Emperor penguins at Cape Crozier failed to raise chicks, according to Gerald Kooyman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He said the birds probably abandoned efforts to breed when the icebergs, pushing southward, destroyed and closed off their usual breeding area. Those that did breed, and attempted to hatch the egg or raise the chick in the area, failed during incubation or soon after hatching.

The icebergs are designated B-15A and C-16. Iceberg B-15A is 37 kilometers (20 nautical miles) wide and 87 kilometers (47 nautical miles) long. Berg C-16 is roughly 18.5 kilometers (10 nautical miles) wide by 55 kilometers (30 nautical miles) long. The icebergs broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000 and gradually migrated west to a point northeast of McMurdo Sound, creating a barrier that altered wind and current patterns.

Early this season, the sea ice extended roughly 128 kilometers (80 miles) north of McMurdo Station, the main U.S. research station in Antarctica, located on Ross Island. At this time of year, the ice edge typically extends between 24 and 32 kilometers (15 and 20 miles) north of the station. Recent storms have reduced the extent of the ice greatly; it now extends 61 kilometers (33 nautical miles) from McMurdo.

The extensive sea ice has
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Contact: Peter West
pwest@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
26-Dec-2001


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