Surfing Penguins by Peter Orr
A tale of two poles
Tracking penguins and rescuing robots all in a day's work for UD researchers
1:02 p.m., Jan. 26, 2015--Tracking penguins and rescuing underwater robots is all in a day’s work for University of Delaware marine scientists Matthew Oliver and Megan Cimino.
Over the last few weeks, the researchers tagged Adélie penguins with satellite transmitters to help the research team understand where the penguin parents find food, primarily krill -- small shrimp-like crustaceans.
A UD research team has been studying the Atlantic brant goose and its nesting sites in the Arctic.
Adélies are one of three penguin species that nest along a strip of land called Biscoe Point, about 10 miles from the researcher’s home base at Palmer Station in the West Antarctic Peninsula. According to reports on the Project CONVERGE blog, Adélie penguin population numbers have declined over the last 20 years.
In a few weeks the penguin researchers will measure the weight of the chicks before they fledge, to gain a better idea of the hatchling’s probability of survival.
The UD team, which is housed in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, also collaborated with a research team specifically studying krill, using an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) called a glider to measure the water temperature near Palmer Station, as well as the amount of phytoplankton beneath the water’s surface.
Connecting the dots between the phytoplankton -- microscopic plants -- and the krill that feed on them, along with the penguin feeding habits, may help scientists start to paint a picture of what’s happening with this native Antarctic species.
The UD glider is deployed in the middle of Palmer Deep, an underwater canyon, collecting data to help researchers understand how the water column’s temperature, salinity, chlorophyll levels change over time. This will allow the scientists to see if winds, tides or internal waves can affect the stability of the water column. In comparison, gliders from collaborating institutions Rutgers and University of Alaska, Fairbanks are doing transects along and across the canyon to look at spatial variability.
The researchers unexpectedly had to rescue one of the group’s gliders after it didn’t check in for over eight hours. They suspect the glider got stuck under water in some kelp, but was able to jettison the extra weight it carries for just such emergencies in order to resurface. Once above water, the glider reported its location and Oliver was able to pull it to safety.
During the rescue, he and a colleague noticed icebergs that had drifted into the water over Palmer Deep. They quickly triangulated the iceberg’s locations and relayed the information to the pilots of the other gliders in an effort to prevent any further mishaps with the gliders still in the water.