Underway! — The 18th Antarctic Site Inventory Field Season . . .

The Antarctic Site Inventory’s 18th field season has begun, with Inventory teams working from three different platforms. The tour ship we’re utilizing is the Akademik Ioffe, a Russian vessel operated by the Canadian company One Ocean Expeditions. We’ll be with her for six departures through early February 2012. As well, we have a stint in early December onboard the U.S. National Science Foundation vessel, Lawrence M. Gould.

And totally special for us this season will be the yacht PELAGIC, which we’ll be utilizing exclusively for science and penguin-counting during a 2+ week period in December. This aspect springs from the support of The Tinker Foundation in New York, which is generously assisting a two-year campaign by the Inventory to visit “data gap” sites that we’ve visited only infrequently in the 17-year history of the project. Censuses at these “gap” sites will greatly advance the analyses presently underway to ascertain precisely how changes are being driven in the vastly warming Antarctic Peninsula ecosystem.

Also on our radar this season is the first-ever, site-wide census of all chinstrap penguin nests at Deception Island in the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Chinstraps nest in a number of colonies here, one of which, Baily Head, is subject to specific site visitation guidelines that are regularly reviewed by the Antarctic Treaty countries. This site-wide chinstrap census necessarily will assist Treaty countries in managing the island as a whole and updating applicable guidelines as appropriate.

Also at Baily Head, we’ll be installing two passive audio recording devices so we may “listen in” to the chinstraps’ breeding season, from the loud courtship calls of returning pairs to the squeaks of their chicks begging for food. Data from these devices will be used in our ongoing research into the timing of penguin breeding and how it may be affected by climate change.

We’ll also have the opportunity to survey Hannah Point on Livingston Island, which the Inventory has visited only a few times over the last decade. It is a crowded, species-rich location, which, because of Treaty-mandated guidelines, is off-limits to tourism visitation during the penguin egg-laying season.

Our 18th season finds us again tracking changes throughout the Peninsula. New analyses by our colleague, Heather Lynch (publication in review), reveal that the Peninsula’s chinstrap penguin population is declining as significantly as that of the Adélie penguins in this region, while gentoo penguins continue to flourish, expanding both their numbers and geographic range.

The roster of Antarctic Site Inventory researchers for the 2011-12 field season includes: Ron Naveen, Heather Lynch, Thomas Mueller, Steven Forrest, Melissa Rider, Rosemary Dagit, Michael Polito, Rebecka Brasso, Paula Casanovas, and Elise Larsen.