In the colony of about 18,000 breeding penguin pairs on Petrels Island, French scientists discovered just two surviving chicks at the start of the year. Thousands of starved chicks and unhatched eggs were found across the island in the region called Adélie Land (“#Terre_Adélie”).
The colony had experienced a similar event in 2013, when no chicks survived. In a paper about that event, a group of researchers, led by Yan Ropert-Coudert from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said it had been caused by a record amount of summer sea ice and an “unprecedented rainy episode”.
The unusual extent of sea ice meant the penguins had to travel an extra 100km to forage for food. And the rainy weather left the chicks, which have poor waterproofing, wet and unable to keep warm.
This year’s event has also been attributed to an unusually large amount of sea ice. Overall, Antarctica has had a record low amount of summer sea ice, but the area around the colony has been an exception.
Ropert-Coudert said the region had been severely affected by the break-up of the #Mertz_glacier tongue in 2010, when a piece of ice almost the size of Luxembourg – about 80 km long and 40km wide – broke off. That event, which occurred about 250km from Petrels Island, had a big impact on ocean currents and ice formation in the region.