Some scientists believe global warming is affecting the feeding environment of the Adélie penguin in Antarctica, and a Cal Poly biology professor is heading south to learn more.
Mark Moline will travel to Antarctica in December, funded by part of a $290,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the foraging environment of the penguin species.
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Tests are needed to verify that the coral died from oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, but the chief scientist who led the government-funded expedition said Friday he was convinced it was related.
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The project is one of three ocean-related studies Moline has recently received grant funding to participate in with other scientists.
Moline’s work will involve choosing and equipping remote underwater vehicles with technology that collects scientific data for analysis.
The two additional projects he’s involved with will look at wind patterns and water movement off Point Conception and the feeding conditions of toothed whales off the San Diego coastline.
The Adélie penguin feasts on krill and squid, but researchers have found that a reduction in sea ice and a scarcity of food have contributed to a sharp decline in the penguin populations.
Moline and fellow researchers will travel to Earth’s southernmost continent with an autonomous underwater vehicle to conduct daily surveys of plants and phytoplankton consumed by krill.
“Increasing water temperatures have changed where the penguins are feeding,” Moline said. “The Adélie penguins now are going 20 kilometers from shore to a feeding spot when they used to travel one kilometer.”
Moline’s work will also include a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the oceanic research along the Central Coast.
The oceanic project will study the Santa Barbara Channel and how warmer water flows north around Point Conception toward southern San Luis Obispo County during relaxation of southerly winds. This process makes temperatures warmer farther north.
A $1.7 million grant from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program will fund the whale study, which Moline will work on with Oregon State University marine biologist Kelley Benoit-Bird.
That project will involve capturing real-time sonar images — or video images derived from sound instead of light — to study the whales feeding at depths that haven’t been examined before. The whales’ diet includes squid, octopus and fish.
Each of the studies is intended to contribute to overall efforts by scientists to better understand climate change and its potential effects on plant and animal life, Moline said.
The Penguin Camera is located on Torgersen Island (64°46’S, 64°04’W), off the coast of Anvers Island and less than a mile from Palmer Station. Torgersen Island is home to a colony of Adélie penguins numbering approximately 2,500. This camera is seasonal and operates primarily from October to February, the Adélie breeding season. The camera is solar-powered and may sometimes experience brief outages due to inclement weather. School classrooms and other educational demonstrations will often take control of the camera, moving it to gain better views of the colony.