Sound Science Center research assistant Anne Schaefer is headed south for her
second year working with penguins for long-term seabird research projects in
Antarctica. This year, in addition to six weeks of at-sea seabird surveys
aboard a research vessel, she will be spending a month doing land-based field
work at Palmer Station, Antarctica.
Palmer Station is
on an island surrounded by several other small islands where colonies of
seabirds including three penguin species (Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo), giant
petrels, and skuas nest. The research team Schaefer will join will be out in
the field for long hours every opportunity that weather and ice conditions
allow. When they do go to the islands Anne expects to work long hours, not
unlike the week she spent collecting data on Avian Island in Antarctica last
year. Some days, Schaefer said, they would start in the morning and not get
done until 11 p.m. or midnight. However, while they are based at Palmer, they
have to be back on station by 10 p.m.
especially excited about this portion of the trip because she will have the
opportunity to do more hands-on work with penguins, such as collecting body
measurements and deploying tracking tags. The type of work is similar to what
she does at PWSSC in Cordova with tufted puffins, gulls and shorebirds.
She will be
taking the same types of measurements: flippers (wings), bill length and body
weights. She will even use the same tools, but the technique is different.
penguins way differently than you do other birds.” Schaefer sayd. “They are
tough, strong, heavy creatures.”
The data they are
collecting is for a variety of different long-term monitoring studies led by
William R. Fraser of the Polar Oceans Research Group. The studies vary by
species, but they’re all related to abundance, reproduction and foraging
behaviors of seabirds as the climate shifts in Antarctica.
a month at Palmer Station, Schaefer will work aboard the 230-foot icebreaker
research vessel Laurence M. Gould for four weeks. Her job on the boat is to
alternate with one other person to identify and count every bird she sees on
survey transects during daylight hours. This is also similar to the work Schaefer
has been doing here at the science center for the last few years with the Fall
and Winter Seabird Abundance Monitoring project. This time though, instead of common loons,
red-breasted mergansers and buffleheads she will be seeing albatross, giant
petrels and more penguins.
cruise follows a very specific grid along the coast of Antarctica known as the
Palmer Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) survey site. It is part of the
National Science Foundation’s network of 28 LTER sites around the world — including
one in the Northern Gulf of Alaska. Each site measures the same site-specific
parameters in the same timeframe year after year to provide a long-term public
data set. The Palmer LTER site’s survey grid is surveyed every year in January
by a variety of researchers studying every level of the ecosystem.
component is an important part of this whole ecosystem approach because
studying marine birds can tell us what is happening under the surface based on
where they are distributed and how abundant they are. A seabird survey like the
Palmer LTER with a set grid and time frame can give clues into what’s going on
with a whole ecosystem as things change over time.