En route to Antarctica!

I write this as I am travelling the furthest South I’ve ever been to the largest known colony of antarctic petrels, these beautiful birds:

Antarctic Petrel, photo: Sebastian Descamps
Antarctic petrel, photo: Sebastian Descamps

I’m on my way to Svarthamaren, roughly 200km inland on the Antarctic continent, home to approximately 200,000 breeding pairs of antarctic petrels.

The Antarctic continent, showing the antarctic petrel colony 200km inland at Svarthamaren

As well as antarctic petrels, there are two other species of birds living at Svarthamaren: south polar skuas and the much smaller snow petrels. Both species of petrel make the 200+ km journey out to sea to feed on fish and krill, whereas south polar skuas predate on both species of petrel.

Snow petrel and south polar skua
As well as antarctic petrels, two other seabird species live at Svarthamaren: snow petrels (left) and south polar skuas (right). Photos: Sebastian Descamps

I’ll be working alongside Sebastian Decamps from the Norwegian Polar Institute to tag antarctic petrels with geolocators during the chick rearing period. This data will (eventually) contribute to my PhD project, which is looking at the causes and consequences of individual consistency in seabird foraging behaviour.

We’ll be carrying out some population monitoring of antarctic petrels as part of long term studies that started in the mid 1980s. The trends aren’t looking too good – the number of chicks reared in the colony has been gradually declining since monitoring started. Lets hope we see a good season this year! We’ll also keep up long term monitoring work of the two other seabird species.

On behalf of Samantha Patrick, my PhD supervisor and collaborator on this project, we’ll be running some pilot studies to test for differences in individual behaviour of antarctic petrels. The aim of such tests is to determine the role of individual personality in shaping the populations ability to adapt to a changing climate.

Furthermore, I will (as always) be keeping lookout for any dead birds that haven’t already been scavenged by south polar skuas. As with my ongoing work with northern fulmars, I will dissect any dead birds to look for evidence of ingested plastic pollution. I also plan to collect south polar skua pellets to look for plastic, as new evidence in the north east Atlantic reveals a trophic transfer of plastic from fulmars up to great skuas.

So, lots of things to keep us busy! All the while we’ll be living in this red metal container, with a red tent for a lab under 24-hour daylight (hopefully sunshine!):

Tor field station at Svarthamaren, photo: Stein Tronstad
The Tor research station at Svarthamaren: our home for our field work in Antarctica! We live in the red container, and the small red tent to the left is our lab. The birds breed on the rocky slope to the right. Photo: Stein Tronstad, Norwegian Polar Institute

I’ll have no internet while I’m there, so watch this space for updates when I’m back…!

2 thoughts on “En route to Antarctica!

  1. Wonderful experience for you darling enjoy and most importantly stay safe, look forward to hearing all about it on your return xxxx


  2. Hello Alice! We have just “climbed on board” and will be following your trip with great interest!
    Looking forward to hearig more. Much love dear. Pete and Mo xx


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