The second biggest penguin colony in Antarctica has been wiped out, researchers state.
Thousands of young emperor penguin chicks drowned in the Weddell Sea in 2016 when the ocean ice on which they were being raised was obliterated amid stormy climate. Since then, the colony – which was located at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf – has shown no sign of re-establishing itself.
The loss of the Halley Bay colony was reported by a group from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who saw the d disappearance utilizing satellite pictures.
Dr. Peter Fretwell and Dr. Phil Trathan said the colony – which for quite a long time was involved somewhere in the range of 14,000 and 25,000 breeding pairs – appeared to disappear overnight. It is imagined that the chicks had not yet developed the right feathers to swim following the breaking of the ocean ice.
Dr. Fretwell said the BBC: “The sea ice that’s formed since 2016 hasn’t been as strong. Storm events that occur in October and November will now blow it out early. So there’s been some sort of regime change. Sea ice that was previously stable and reliable is now just untenable.”
It’s not clear why the sea ice on the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf hasn’t properly reformed since 2016, but Dr. Trathan said it could be an ‘important signal’ of what’s to come.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “What’s interesting for me is not that colonies move or that we can have major breeding failures – we know that. It’s that we are talking here about the deep embayment of the Weddell Sea, which is potentially one of the climate change refugia for those cold-adapted species like emperor penguins.
“And so if we see major disturbances in these refugia – where we haven’t previously seen changes in 60 years – that’s an important signal.”