Saturday, February 27, 2010

Massive Ice Collision Threatens Penguins

Massive Ice Collision Poses Problems for Penguins

Updated: 1 day 3 hours ago
Joseph Schuman Senior Correspondent

(Feb. 26) -- An ice shelf twice the size of Greater Los Angeles was sheared off the coast of Antarctica after a 60-mile-long iceberg plowed into it earlier this month, endangering a key breeding area for a famous colony of emperor penguins.

A 965-square-mile tongue of the Mertz Glacier in Australia's Antarctic territory was struck by the berg known as B-9B on Feb. 12 or Feb. 13, breaking off a floating ice island that's more than 1,300 feet thick, according to an Australian-French team of scientists. They have been studying the coastal basin area with satellite photos and a sensor array strung across the sea, and announced the collision today.
Emperor Penguins
Scientists say a huge ice shelf that broke off Antarctica earlier this month could have serious consequences for the area's colony of emperor penguins.

That section of the glacier was already considered a "loose tooth" after rifts appeared amid a warming climate in the 1990s, according to the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center in Hobart, Australia.

But it was still protecting the Mertz Glacier polynya, a body of water with a high food concentration for a diverse assortment of birds and marine mammals -- in particular, the emperor penguins that breed there and gained fame as the subjects of the Luc Jacquet film "March of the Penguins."

With most of the glacier moving away, that water will be exposed to strong offshore winds that promote the formation of sea ice, affecting the amount of salt in the water. The "drastic oceanographic changes" expected to take place could have "large consequences" for the penguins, the scientists reported.

The future movement of what are now two giant icebergs could also affect local ocean circulation and alter oxygen levels in a much broader area of water.

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