Scientists from Stony Brook University on Greenpeace’s Antarctic expedition are discovering the significant effects that global climate change has had on penguin colonies in the Antarctic.
Heather Lynch, professor of ecology and evolution in Stony Brook University’s College of Arts and Sciences, is helping lead the expedition, which has found that vast colonies of Adélie penguins in the remote Weddell Sea have remained stable in the last decade, providing vital new evidence that these areas remain a climate refuge for these Adélie penguins.
Adélie colonies on Penguin Point, Devil Island, Vortex Island and Cockburn Island all have roughly similar population sizes to when they were last surveyed. These findings support the theory that the Weddell sea may be an important refuge for wildlife from the worst effects of climate change.
The Weddell Sea is home to a large proposed Marine Protected Area, (MPA), that was first proposed by the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) almost a decade back. However, it has not been delivered. This discovery underscores the need for protection and preservation of the Weddell Strait while it preserves its functioning ecosystem.
“The Weddell Sea is hardly immune from climate change, but it appears that Adélie penguins breeding in this area remain buffered from the worst of the threats posed to those populations declining so rapidly on the warming western side of the Antarctic Peninsula,” Lynch said. “Our understanding of the biology in this inhospitable landscape continues to grow every year, but everything we learn points towards its value for conservation.”
Stony Brook scientists found a new colony at Andersson Island with gentoo penguins. This was on the eastern side Antarctic Peninsula. It also included the first-ever recorded discoveries of the species in an archipelago at its northern tip. These are the most southerly records for gentoo peguins in the region. Until recently, it was too cold for the more temperate birds that could successfully raise chicks. These findings were made public in celebration of World Penguin Awareness Day, Jan. 20.
“Mapping out these remote archipelagos will give us a better understanding of how the region’s penguins are responding to rapid climate change,” Lynch said. “As expected, we’re finding gentoo penguins nearly everywhere we look – more evidence that climate change is drastically changing the mix of species here on the Antarctic Peninsula.”
Lynch, who runs The Lynch Lab for Quantitative EcologyStony Brook University This is the inaugural endowed chair in ecology, evolution, and the environment in the University of California at Berkeley Institute for Advanced Computational Science (IACS), According to him, the trip involved walking across parts of the peninsula where penguin colonies could be seen from satellites.
Lynch’s research focuses on the development and application of statistics and mathematics to conservation biology. Her current research is focused on the Antarctic Site Inventory, an international vessel-based breeding bird inventory program. She manages this project in partnership with Oceanites.
Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise expedition is taking the researchers to the region. They are conducting the first ever counts of the gentoo colonies. Only one nest of gentoo was found previously this far south.
Rising global temperatures have caused irreversible damage to the polar region, including rapid melting of ice sheet and glaciers. In February 2020, Antarctica set a new record with 18.3 degrees Celsius. The Antarctic Peninsula is one the most rapidly warming areas on Earth. It has seen an increase of almost three degrees Celsius in temperature over the past 50 years.