No pen­guins harmed in making of tril­lion- ton ice­berg

But Antarc­tic shelf is close to home

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Doyle Rice

Don’t worry, pen­guin fans. There are no pen­guin colonies on the Larsen C ice shelf, nor on the newly cre­ated ice­berg that just sheared off it, ac­cord­ing to Project MI­DAS, a Bri­tish re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Pen­guins live where they can ac­cess fish, and the cliff at the sea­ward edge of the ice shelf is at least 65 feet high. “Pen­guins can jump, but not that high,” said Swansea Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Adrian Luck­man of Project MI­DAS.

The Larsen C ice shelf, how­ever, is at­tached to the coast of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, where plenty of pen­guins live.

The 1- tril­lion- ton ice­berg that broke off is the size of Delaware and one of the largest ever recorded. While ice shelves can re­grow, Project MI­DAS sci­en­tists said it’s likely the re­mains of Larsen C are now too frag­ile to ever re­cover its orig­i­nal size.

Colonies of em­peror and Adélie pen­guins live within 200 miles of where the chunk of ice de­tached, said pen­guin ex­pert Ron Naveen of the en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Ocean­ites.

“The em­per­ors for­age within range of the Larsen C, so one concern is whether there will be an im­pact in terms of their find­ing food,” he said. “Longer- term, as the berg melts, there could be dis­rup­tion to the ocean food chain sim­ply be­cause of fresh wa­ter be­ing added to the ecosys­tem.”

The fu­ture progress and breakup of the ice­berg into frag­ments is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, Luck­man said. How long the berg sticks around de­pends on how quickly it moves to a warmer cli­mate and how quickly it breaks up.

This year, in one of the most de­tailed sur­veys ever un­der­taken, Naveen de­ter­mined that 12 mil­lion pen­guins live in Antarc­tica. The pop­u­la­tions of the two most com­mon species there — Adélies and chin­straps — are de­clin­ing, largely be­cause of cli­mate change, ac­cord­ing to that re­port.

As for other wildlife, new ma­rine ar­eas are ex­posed when ice shelves col­lapse, a process that hasn’t yet — and may never hap­pen — to Larsen C.


Pen­guin colonies live within 200 miles of the shrink­ing Larsen C ice shelf.

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