PAULET ISLAND, Antarctica – The 80 scientific leaders on the Homeward Bound expedition landed on Paulet Island, on the extreme northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, known for its extensive colony of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae), a threatened species that – due to climate change – is migrating even farther south on the White Continent.
On the fourth day of the expedition, after setting sail from the Argentine port of Ushuaia and making it through the turbulent Drake Passage, the scientists shared the small round island, just 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) in diameter, with hundreds of Adelies which, with their characteristic tuxedo-like plumage, waddle here and there as if they are looking for something.
When one tours Antarctica by boat, from the water one can see the penguins in open areas, on icebergs, on the rocky coasts and even near the scientific bases established by several countries in this frigid and forbidding zone.
Paulet Island has a volcanic landscape with a cone rising 350 meters (1,150 feet) above sea level and a broad area of level ground on its northern side.
This type of trip is a regular thing for Homeward Bound, an Australian program supported by Spain’s Acciona company, since this journey seeks to highlight the leadership of women in matters of global interest, including climate change, and – the scientists say – Adelies are one of Antarctica’s threatened species.
Although they are migratory by nature during their reproductive period, in recent years it has been noted that the flightless birds – which are nevertheless excellent swimmers – are migrating further south due to changes in their regular habitat.
“There’s a vulnerability linked to marine ice. The Adelies are among the species which suffer most due to climate change and records show that they are moving south,” just like other penguin species “seeking marine ice, where they find their food,” Sharon Robertson, a professor at Australia’s University of Wollongong, told EFE.
The basic food for this species – each individual of which weighs about 5 kilograms (11 pounds), stands 70 cm (2.3 feet) high and lives up to 20 years – is krill, tiny creatures which live in the ocean.
But scientists on board the Ushuaia, the expedition vessel, believe that the temperature of the Weddell Sea has risen and the Adelies prefer to get their krill in colder water, so they’ve been heading south.
“Antarctica is a very sensitive place, especially the peninsula, where if the ice melts, it won’t reflect the sun’s rays and the temperature rises. We’re feeling a temperature (between 0-2 C, or 32-35 F, in the sun) which is very high for this part of the peninsula,” Cindy Shelito, a professor of meteorology and climate change at the University of Northern Colorado, told EFE.
On Paulet Island, which is a mating and nesting site for the Adelies and also for cormorants, seagulls and Weddell seals, there are still thousands of Adelies, along with other penguins.
After the stop at Paulet Island, the vessel returns to Maxwell Bay, where the members of the expedition will visit Carlini Base, Argentina’s main scientific center in Antarctica.
The Homeward Bound expedition departed from Ushuaia on Dec. 31 and among its more than 10 scheduled stops are Carlini Base, the US Palmer Base, Ukraine’s Vernardsky Base and Pleneau Island, next to an iceberg “cemetery.”
The Antarctic tour will last until Jan. 19.
Homeward Bound is a global initiative for women in the STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) fields with an eye toward increasing their visibility as leaders on key matters of global import.