Melting snow in Antarctica reveals mummified penguins

In January 2016, Steven Emsley was completing a season of studying penguin colonies living near Zuccalmi Station, an Italian base in Antarctica. With rapid heat quickly approaching a close and completion of all planned work, a ornithologist from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Drs. Emslie found out what any good scientist did in the Antarctic with a few extra days.

He had heard rumors of penguin guano on a rocky cape along the Scott Coast, but there were no active colonies. Curious, he arranged a helicopter flight to the area and kept an eye around.

“Since Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton explored the region a hundred years ago and did not write about any penguins on this particular site, I did not expect to always write about penguins after meeting them. . ” he said.

And yet, Drs. Emslie quickly finds out that he is somewhat complicated when he arrives. “There were pebbles everywhere,” he said.

While pebbles are an everyday discovery on other continents, it is rare to spot them in abundance on dry land in Antarctica. A major exception is found in the Adélie penguin colonies, as birds gather small stones from the beaches to build their nests.

The pebbles were gathered together in nests and recently slightly dispersed by the weather. Then Dr. Emslie looked at the guano. There was a lot of dried penguin waste forming the iconic white stain on the surrounding rocks. Then he found the bodies of Penguin.

The feather is still intact and the flesh is barely rotting, Drs. Emsley was stunned.

“I think I remember, wow, a penguin colony that didn’t even know about Shackleton,” he said.

The setback sparked further curiosity and made him wonder what could possibly happen in the colony. Mohit, he collected some remains and took them back for carbon-dating analysis when the birds died.

With dates of death that occurred 800 to 5,000 years ago, Drs. Emsley immediately realized that guano, feathers, bones, and pebbles had been sealed everywhere under layers of snow for centuries, and that “freshly dead” penguins were actually recently defrosted mummies that long ago swallowed up snow fields. She went. Scott and Shackleton could be forgiven for not opening this colony because it was completely hidden from the scene when explorers were in the area.

The discovery presents a picture of a site that, after experiencing the occupation of the Adile Penguin for thousands of years, saw the occupation abruptly cease to exist nearly 800 years ago.

Dr. Emslie speculates in the journal Geology. Where he reported his findings in mid-September, that the cooling temperatures formed a type of sea ice along the seabed, which persisted well into the summer months. Known as “fast ice” because it “accelerates” to the beach, this sea ice makes it very difficult for penguins to gain access to the beaches and prevents them from colonizing in places where this happens.

He said he thought the snow forced the colony to leave, but also suggested that warming temperatures could change things in the coming years.

With the melting of Antarctic ice and rising sea levels, established penguin colonies are being forced to disperse to new locations. Dr. Emslie suggests that penguins may then return to such sites.

“They need pebbles for their nests, so they are going to find all the pebbles that are already very attractive on the ground at this site,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make this place their home again in the near future.”

Other penguin experts agree.

“We always feel that the Adélie penguins made a strong impulse to return to nesting places, which were born from year to year but, as many sinister snow falls have shown us recently, they actually Are very friendly, “David Henley, penguin ecologist HT Harvey & Associates, an ecological consulting firm.

“We’ve seen Adélies roam the coast in small flocks and, if they find such a promising-looking site, they’ll make it their home,” he said.

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