Scientists exploring Cape Irizar, Antarctica, came across a puzzling new discovery.
The area around Drygalski Ice Tongue on the Scott Coast, Ross Sea, revealed fresh remains of Adelie Penguins. It shouldn’t have been surprising as it’s normal for the birds to be buried in ice when they die.
However, the puzzling part is the species. There have been no active penguin colony at this site since the first explorers (Robert Falcon Scott) in 1901-1903 came to the Ross Sea. Researcher Steven Emslie discovered these remains. There were abundant bones (penguin chicks) on the surface along with guano stains (defecation marks). Primary observation suggested that this area must have been recently used, owing to the guano stains. But Emslie knew it wasn’t possible.
Some of the remains were chicks with feathers, the carcasses almost falling apart from years of decay. But they seemed intact, like mummies. The team collected some of these surface remains carefully for further research. The remains are to be analysed and radiocarbon dated off-site, in a proper lab.
There were also old pebble mounds scattered about the cape. The most probable explanation is that these mounds must be former nesting sites of Adélie penguins. The penguins use pebbles as nesting material. Once the nest has been used and abandoned, the pebbles get scattered and stand out in the landscape. This happens because they are all about the same size.
“We excavated into three of these mounds, using methods similar to archaeologists, to recover preserved tissues of penguin bone, feather, and eggshell, as well as hard parts of prey from the guano (fish bones, otoliths)," said Emslie. He further explained that the soil had been dry and dusty like most other sites around Ross Sea. He suggested that there was a mixture of old and seemingly recent penguin remains, which implied multiple periods of occupation and abandonment, possibly for thousands of years. He said in all of his years, he has never seen anything like this.
As reported in ScienceDaily, Ross Sea has seen an increase in temperature of 1.5-2.0 degrees since the 1980s, owing to Global Warming. In satellite images, the cape can be seen gradually emerging from the snow. Emslie explained that the recent snowmelt is responsible for revealing these long-preserved remains, or at least his best guess to explain why the remains seem to be a jumble from so many different ages.