Thursday, January 17, 2008

Studying Penguin Poop in Antarctica

Louise Emmerson has spent the past five years in a Hobart laboratory preoccupied with understanding the lives of Antarctic Adelie penguins. Her task in Antarctica is less appealing, she has come to collect their crap.

With Australian Antarctic Division project leader Simon Jarman and colleague Mike Double, she will spend the next two weeks living in a remote field hut, playing Pictionary by night, and venturing out into the frigid icescape each day to scrape penguin poo from the snow and rocks, photograph it, catalogue it, and deposit it in tubes to be shipped back to a Hobart laboratory. The DNA within the samples will be used to gain new insight into the Adelie's diet, foraging habits and breeding patterns.

That data will provide a window on the health of the Adelie community, and more broadly, a barometer on the Southern Ocean ecosystems on which it relies.

These birds are canaries in the coalmine in climate change terms. Any loss or movement in the krill and plankton and other creatures that nurture the Adelies and the rest of the marine population will rapidly be reflected in these rookeries.

Source: The Age

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