by Alan Heil
You might call it Earth’s most mysterious and least explored region on our planet, for good reasons:
*Antarctica is the world’s fifth-largest and most frigid continent, covering about 20 % of the southern hemisphere.
It’s unique in other aspects:
—The only continent with no permanent human settlements and lacking a native indigenous population. In 1959, a dozen nations mandated that Antarctica be preserved for scientific research.
Meeting in Washington D.C., these countries were Antarctica’s nearby neighbors Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Also, Belgium, Britain, Chile, France, Norway, Japan, Russia and the United States.
—The Antarctic Ice Sheet dominates the world’s southernmost continent, the largest stretch of ice on Earth.
—Temperatures in the Antarctic midwinter on the coastlands range from -22-degrees Farenheit today, compared with Antarctica’s summer months around Christmas Day. Then, temperatures hover around freezing. On warmer days inland on the continent, temperatures can reach 48-degrees F.
—The geographic South Pole lies close to the center of Antarctica, and a few of the continent’s highest mountains soar 13,000 feet above its frozen terrain.
A recent discovery
Professor Steve Emslie of the University of North Carolina, last year and in 2021 led a team of archeologists on a dry, windy cape in southern Antarctica, its most frigid region.
There, he and his team discovered a field of dead, mummified penguins last October. The rocks around them were littered with bones, pebbles, and discolorations called guano stains, telltale marks of an abandoned Adelie penguin colony.
A close-up photo of a bird visible among the rocks on the rugged beach taken by Dr. Emslie and his team clearly shows the full outline of a winged corpse, its eye, and sharp beak and blackleg curled beneath.
“In all the years I’ve been working in the Antarctic, I’ve never seen a site like this before, Dr. Emslie told the Live Science Journal.
On a subsequent trip since last October, the archeologist and his team excavated three of those so-called pebble mounds, revealing dozens of chick bones and even remains of ancient nests.
The big question: how long ago did these creatures live? The only way to determine that was by radiocarbon dating of the samples. That technique confirmed what Dr. Emslie expected: the newly-uncovered penguin remains were actually ancient, ranging from 800 years ago to possibly as early as 4,000 BC.
Recent summer melts due to global warming appear to be increasing the chances of even more such discoveries in Antarctica ahead, especially if Planet Earth’s hotter weather continues to be hotter.
A stunning photo in the Live Science Journal taken by Dr. Emslie shows a contemporary 21st century live black-hooded penguin, eyes wide open like a pair of golden circles, standing on a field of stones. The photo was snapped by Dr. Emslie’s team at the site of his team’s recent discovery.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More