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Citadel News Service
3 Jan 2014

Researching the impact of climate change on penguins in Antarctica

Professors from The Citadel and Oxford University collaborating on study about declining penguin populations

Gentoo Penguin on Antarctica iceberg, The Citadel

A biology professor from The Citadel and a penguinologist from Oxford University are trekking along the coast of northern Antarctica comparing the beaks and feet of penguins with color charts and gathering feathers for DNA samples. They’re also recovering photo memory cards from extreme-weather cameras and establishing time-lapse data capturing equipment in new colony sites.

After 22 days of gathering data and specimens, the two biologists return to their respective campus to analyze their samples. The results will be included in a long-range penguin research program directed by the Oxford penguin expert, Dr. Tom Hart, who invited The Citadel’s Dr. Paul Nolan to assist. Nolan has studied penguins for more than a decade.

Unlike research teams idled onboard Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which became frozen in place on Christmas Eve, the Citadel/Oxford team made it to the continent via Quark Expedition’s Ocean Diamond. Each day the team boards a small, inflatable Zodiac boat to quietly approach coastal penguin colonies that Hart has already been observing, and others that they will add to the program.

Dr. Paul Nolan of The Citadel in Antarctica

“The goal is to study the colonies as comprehensively as possible without being intrusive. Rather than catching and tagging penguins, we quietly move around the edges of the colonies, documenting the colors of their beaks and feet to gauge their health. We are also establishing new time-lapse recording stations,” said Paul Nolan, PhD., professor of biology for The Citadel, “and gathering dropped feathers to use for DNA sampling that will help us gauge the physical stress levels on the birds that may be caused by climate change. Climate change is most pronounced at the poles.”

On International Penguin Day, on April 25, 2014, hundreds of photos as well as video from the excursion will be available on Hart’s website, PenguinLifelines.org, at which time “citizen-scientists” will be recruited to go on line and help identify the conditions of thousands of penguins.

The researchers retun home to the UK and to South Carolina in late January.