Antarctica and climate change, new film

This 11 September 2015 video is called Ice and the Sky / La Glace et le ciel (2015) – Trailer (English subtitles).

On 14 November 2015, I saw Ice and the Sky, the new film by Luc Jacquet from France. Luc Jacquet became famous because of his Oscar-winning film The march of the penguins; about emperor penguins in Antarctica.

The new film is basically about Antarctica as well. However, not a single emperor penguin. A few Adélie penguins and gentoo penguins, appearing not for long. An albatross flying, for even shorter.

For the subject of Ice and the Sky is not wildlife in the Antarctic. It is ‘dead’ nature in the Antarctic: ice and snow; as studied by French glaciologist and climate scientist Claude Lorius. He went for the first time to Antarctica as a 23-year-old student in 1956, with the book The time machine by H.G. Wells in his luggage.

Probably, ‘dead’ ice will not attract as many people to cinemas as lively, though non-flying, birds. Which would be a pity, as Claude Lorius during over fifty years of Antarctic research discovered in ‘dead’ ice important things for animal, including human, life, on all of planet Earth.

Claude Lorius discovered that even in Antarctica, there was influence of human pollution, thousands of kilometers away. Nuclear bomb fallout was detectable in the polar continent’s snow.

Lorius was also a pioneer of studying ancient ice, thousands of meters under the surface and hundreds of thousands of years old. Studying this, Lorius found out that human CO2 pollution was causing climate change, threatening to melt masses of ice, leading to big flooding. Pseudo-scientists paid by Big Oil today still deny this truth.

The film shows the very harsh cold stormy conditions under which Lorius did his research. Sometimes, there are funny moments, like when an accordion player plays a song while riding on a snowmobile at Soviet research base Vostok in the 1980s. It reminded me of the accordion player which I heard recently on Vlieland island. I recognized one spot where I myself had been while in Antarctica: the whale skeleton at the abandoned Norwegian whaling station on Deception island.

This 11 June 2015 video is called Film “Ice and the Sky”. Marion Cotillard and Luc Jacquet at the official launch.

A critical review of this film is here.

Another review is here.

Antarctic ice shelf disintegrating

This video says about itself:

NASA Study Shows Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf Nearing Its Final Act

14 May 2015

A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica‘s Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade.

A team led by Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, found the remnant of the Larsen B Ice Shelf is flowing faster, becoming increasingly fragmented and developing large cracks. Two of its tributary glaciers also are flowing faster and thinning rapidly.

Khazendar said, “These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating.”

Birds of Antarctica and Argentina

This video, recorded in Argentina, says about itself:

Birds & More: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

Fabulous scenery, wide open spaces, whales, extraordinary Andes and the bottom of the world. Spectacular Magellanic Woodpecker, very scenic cruise in Drake Channel; 11-12/2008.

Brent Stephenson is a wildlife photographer, guide, and birder based near Napier, New Zealand.

From B1RDER: The birding blog of Eco-Vista | Brent Stephenson (with photos there):

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Looking back to January – Antarctica

Well the year to date has been a hectic one, but with a lot of fantastic places along the way. First off was a trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica – I always say if you are going to go to Antarctica, then you HAVE to do a trip that includes the Falklands and South Georgia. So this is one of my favourite trips, and despite the increase in tourism in the Antarctic you still get the feeling of isolation and that you could well be the first people looking at the landscape.

We started in Ushuaia, with awesome views of both male, female and young Magellanic woodpeckers in the National Park – stonking views! Epic birds, and also got great views of ashy-headed geese. Then out of the Beagle Channel and heading to Saunders Island in the Falklands. This has to be one of the best islands for diversity in the Falkland group, with a great array of species there nesting within easy walking distance. To be so close to nesting black-browed albatross is always a treat, and whilst we were there the birds had young chicks in the nest, so there was a lot going on. Having spent four incredible days on this island camping under a rock at ‘The Neck’ back in 2004 this place is one of my all-time World favourite spots!

Next stop South Georgia, and with landings at Salisbury Plain and St Andrews Bay we got to see a fair sack of the king penguin population that breeds on the island. Our afternoon at St Andrews was just spectacular, with incredible weather and so much going on. I managed a bit of time with tripod and neutral density filters to play around with some long exposures which was fun – let me know what you think of the images below. There might still be a slight colour cast from the ND filters, but I am pretty happy with the results…I’d just like to spend some more time experimenting with these filters.

This video says about itself:

Albatross – Penguins – ICE BIRDS – Antarctica © 2009 C. Hunter Johnson

Nesting Albatross Chicks, King Penguins and Gentoo Penguins. … on a recent visit to South Georgia Island to explore and photograph these rare endangered Albatross in natural, unspoiled surroundings.

The Brent Stephenson article continues:

We also called in to Coronation Island in the South Orkneys, with a little bit of sleet and drizzle it was a chilly landing, but thousands of chinstrap penguins were there to keep us company! Back onboard that afternoon my Canon 1Dx decided to give up the ghost – leaving me with my old worn out 1D MkIV for the rest of the trip. On getting back to NZ it turns out the 1Dx was the first in the country to have completely died – making me wonder if i was lucky or unlucky (!) – having blown a circuit board and some fuses. All covered under warranty when I got home, but effectively an expensive paper-weight for the rest of the trip!

Down on the Antarctic Peninsula we had stops at Brown Bluff, with a little foray along the ice front of the Weddell Sea in Antarctic Sound. There had been an Emperor penguin reported, but rising winds meant we could’t get too close, and had to head back onto the western side of the Peninsula and carry on to the South Shetlands. A morning at Hannah Point was fantastic with lots of activity amongst the chinstraps and gentoos – including the gory killing of a gentoo chick by several giant petrels. At Deception Island, not normally know for its wildlife (at least the interior of the island), we had an awesome leucistic chinstrap penguin. At first it seemed to be playing hard to get, and then at the end walked up on to the shore with another bird, and right into the middle of our group! Ha, what little show off!

Then it was off south along the Peninsula, making landings at Petermann Island and Plennau. Awesome iceberg graveyard, and VERY ‘friendly’ leopard seals – one of which came steaming in and chomped on the end of my zodiac! That was a new experience – it all happened so quick I didn’t have time to get out of there, so after our 2.5 hour zodiac cruise one of the pontoons was VERY flat! We only lost two people out of the zodiac…just kidding! We also had an incredible show with a female and calf humpback right at the stern of the ship. With everyone out on the stern of the ship, they came right in under us and just hung out at the back of the ship for more than 15 minutes – just incredible.

A final afternoon at Portal Point – after finally catching up with killer whales in the Neumeyer which I managed to spot a few miles off. We had stunning views of a pretty large pod of these Type B (small form) killer whales, in what looked like a feeding slick. There was a huge slick on the surface and clearly something attracting large numbers of Wilson’s storm-petrels, giant petrels and other species, but we couldn’t spot anything that looked like chunks of prey. A mystery!

And then we were on our way back to Ushuaia. Time just flies so quickly on a trip like this, with days at sea and the start of the trip seeming to go relatively slow, and then all of a sudden you are heading back across the Drake Passage! A great trip with great folks and an excellent Zegrahm Expedition team!

New marine worm species discovery in Antarctica

Parougia diapason. Photo: Sergi Taboada, UB-IRBio

From the University of Barcelona in Spain:

New species of marine worm discovered on Antarctica‘s Deception Island

May 08, 2015

Parougia diapason is the name of a new marine invertebrate species discovered on Deception Island (South Shetland Islands), in the Southern Ocean. An article published in the journal Polar Biology describes the finding.

The is part of a group of (polychaetous annelids) that commonly occur in marine seabeds rich in from both natural and anthropogenic origin at different latitudes. To be precise, P. diapason is the second species of the genus Parougia discovered in the Southern Ocean (P. furcata was described in 1953 by O. Hartman).

A new species on the seabed of Deception Island

Experts identified this small marine worm in bones of a common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in Port Foster shallow waters, on Deception Island, close to the Gabriel de Castilla Spanish Antarctic base, but also in association with organically enriched sediments nearby. “The Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands are a widely studied area. However, few species have been described so far on Deception Island,” says Professor Conxita Àvila, head of the multidisciplinary project DISTANTCOM, which studies chemical ecology, phylogenetics, phylogeography and trophic ecology in the Antarctic continent.

Marine worms that feed on whale bones: live after death

According to researcher Sergi Taboada, first author of the article, “Tthere are few scientific studies centred on marine invertebrate communities associated with whale bones in the Antarctic. Our group is pioneering these types of studies, which are also being developed in other Earth regions.”

Experts have carried out morphological and phylogenetic analyses (with nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers) to determine the new species. Evidence suggests that it is the most ancient species of the genus Parougia. The species presents some morphological traits, including lack of a dorsal cirrus and some unique morphological characteristics related to the jaw apparatus, that distinguish it from the rest of the congeneric species described so far.

“The study provides comprehensive information about the new species, not only from a morphological and ecological point of view, but also places the species in its phylogenetic context,” says Taboada. “In the past, this type of information was not available, but lately, it is more and more common to find species descriptions that include a phylogenetic tree. Moreover, this kind of information is collected on public databases that every interested researcher can consult.”

Parougia diapason, an opportunistic species

One of the most interesting scientific aspects is the ecology of the species discovered in the Antarctica. These organisms populate areas rich in organic matter, both from natural and anthropogenic origins.

“It seems that P. diapason is an organism that signals any kind of environment alteration, like a significant increase of organic matter,” says Taboada. “The species is a clear example of an opportunistic species, in other words—an organism that profits from an excess of organic matter, which favours its proliferation and population density.” Knowledge of these ecological characteristics is crucial as it allows detecting environmental changes in an indirect way.

There is not much scientific literature about Antarctic marine benthic organisms that proliferate in eutrophic habitats (those rich in organic matter). There are some studies centered on anthropogenic activity impact in the McMurdo base, the largest American scientific base in the Antarctica, to monitor marine invertebrate communities in the area where waste water was dumped.

Antarctic species discovery and protection

The UB-IRBio research team has made other significant discoveries of Antarctic marine invertebrates, for example, the two first bone-eating worms of the genus Osedax, or the nemertean Antarctonemertes riesgoae that has a unique reproductive strategy. However, scientists say that there is still much work to do in order to explore, discover and protect Antarctica.

“It is necessary to continue studying new species and to do our best to protect them,” says Conxita Àvila. “The Antarctic has very special habitats that are difficult to study; measures must be maximized in order to avoid, for instance, anthropogenic pollution and tourism impact.”

“Any change can affect Antarctic regions but we do not have enough data yet. However, it is certain that these changes can cause the extinction of species that remain unknown and unstudied. Besides biodiversity loss, species extinction means missing the opportunity to study the chemical products they produce, which may be molecules with potential biological interest,” alerts Conxita Àvila.

Explore further: Researchers identify marine sponge strategies to survive in Antarctic and Tropical latitudes

More information: “A new Parougia species (Annelida, Dorvilleidae) associated with eutrophic marine habitats in Antarctica.” Polar Biology, April 2015, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 517-527 DOI: 10.1007/S00300-014-1614-7

Adelie penguins on webcam this week

This video says about itself:

Adelie Penguins of Paulet Island, Antarctica

30 dec. 2011

Paulet Island, located near the Antarctic Peninsula in the northwest Weddell Sea, is home to more than 100,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins. The island is a small circular volcanic cone, about one mile in diameter with rocky slopes rising more than 1,100 feet above the shoreline.

Cobble beaches are favorite napping locations for Weddell seals, which you’ll see in this video.

Adelie penguins pop in and out of the surf as they return to shore throughout the day. They spend some time drying off and preening on the upper beaches before making their way to the nesting locations. In some cases, this is a rather difficult journey over loose scree slopes to the uppermost ledges of the volcanic cone.

Snow fields are used by the penguins to travel back and forth from a freshwater lake at the center of the island. This lake was once used by members of Dr. Otto Nordenskjold‘s 1901-1904 Swedish Antarctic Expedition to survive being stranded on the island. A stone hut and burial marker remain today, but the hut is now prime roosting territory for Adelie penguins.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA today:

This Week Only: Watch Penguins Live in Antarctica

Don’t miss this live visit to an Adelie Penguin colony in Antarctica! We’ll be hosting a Q&A with an oceanographer and a penguin scientist at Palmer Station, Antarctica. They’ll take you on a virtual tour of a nearby penguin island, and you’ll be able to ask questions via live chat for the scientists to answer.

We’re hosting two 1-hour live sessions: the first is on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. The second is on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. To watch, just bookmark this link and join us live for one or both sessions!

Antarctic poetry

This video is called PENGUINS, the Antarctic Wildlife.

From Slate in the USA:

Antarctica’s Poet-in-Residence

What endures and what does not?

By Jynne Dilling Martin

Jan. 2 2014 1:51 PM

The National Science Foundation sent Jynne Dilling Martin to Antarctica this winter (the austral summer) as an artist-in-residence. Below are two poems she wrote from there.

“Am Going South, Amundsen”

An oil painting of a jaguar eating an emperor penguin
is the start of a daydream in the Royal Society library.

Nineteen ponies wedged in narrow wooden stalls
sail south; they will soon go blind from miles of radiant snow,

lap at volcanic ash for a last smack of salt, be shot
and fed to dogs. For now they sway this way, sway that.

The magnetic needle dips. Only afterwards we ask if it cost
too much. Will this species be here tomorrow or not?

says the scientist to her assembled team. The ponies eat oats
in silence, the instruments keep ticking, the icy water

washes on and off the deck. A bell abruptly rings a warning:
oxidative stress, methane concentrations, too much heat.

The dragonfish lays her pearlescent eggs beneath the ice
and for ten months stands guard. The sea-stars sway this way,

sway that. We all hope for the best. The adaptive might survive,
the needy will not. Then again, the adaptive likely won’t either.

Sorry we realized too late: we wipe reindeer hair from our eyes,
the glaciated passages too dazzling to quite see clearly.

Soon this ship will be crushed in a polar storm; below deck,
pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica are read aloud,

shredded and used to light pipes. A century later
the preservationist draining antique food tins

sneaks a taste of raspberry jam. That night he’ll dream
he digs out a tomb on a glacier filled with bay leaves

still fragrant and green. The emperor penguin egg
tucked warm in the explorer’s pocket is delivered intact

to the receptionist desk at the Royal Geographic Society;
the robbery victim nestles a stone between his feet

and rocks back and forth at the bottom of the world.
Enough seal blubber can keep a single lamp burning

for a thousand years; enough knowledge exists to fill
twenty thousand encyclopedia pages. Lost friends

return to us in dreams, but come morning we can’t recall
what they wanted. Snakes, Snell’s law, Snowblind

curl up into hazy tobacco smoke. The amphipods
in test tubes begin to faint from next century’s

simulated heat; falling leaves fill the air of our dreams.
The biologist drills a hole in the sea snail’s shell

and slides a miniature stethoscope inside, listens
for the heartbeat: it’s beating, still beating, still beating.

Read Jynne Dilling Martin’s dispatches from Antarctica on the gorgeous and bizarre life under the sea ice; adorable, googly-eyed penguins; and stunning and dangerous ice formations.

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