USA TODAY International Edition
No penguins harmed in making of trillion- ton iceberg
But Antarctic shelf is close to home
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.