A NASA remote sensing instrument is capturing an
unfolding ecological disaster affecting hundreds of thousands
of penguins at Earth’s southern tip.

Images from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer, a
remote sensor built and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are documenting the movement of
huge icebergs and spreading sea ice in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
These natural phenomena are adversely affecting the region’s
penguin population, according to a new study funded by the
National Science Foundation.

Two massive icebergs, initially designated B-15 and C-16,
broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000 and migrated
west to a point northeast of McMurdo Sound. The resulting
barrier altered wind and current patterns. In addition,
earlier this season sea ice in the region of the main U.S.
Antarctic facility, McMurdo Station, expanded from its normal
distance of 24 to 32 kilometers (15 to 20 nautical miles)
north of the base to approximately 128 kilometers (80 nautical
miles). The combination of icebergs and sea ice has made it
difficult for entire colonies of penguins to return from their
feeding grounds in the open sea to their breeding areas. The
result is expected to be a significant reduction in regional
penguin populations, with one colony in danger of extinction.

An image sequence is available online at:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/earth/antarctica .

The images, taken between December 2000 and December
2001, depict the rapid motion of the C-16 iceberg in late 2000
and early 2001 and its subsequent stall, as well as the
incursion of the B-15A iceberg, a large fragment of the
original B-15 iceberg. The increase in sea ice is
particularly pronounced in the final image.

The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer is one of
several Earth-observing experiments aboard the Terra
satellite, launched in December 1999. The instrument acquires
images of Earth at nine angles simultaneously, using nine
separate cameras pointed forward, downward and backward along
its flight path. More information is available at:

http://www-misr.jpl.nasa.gov .

The National Science Foundation manages the U.S.
Antarctic Program, which coordinates almost all U.S.
scientific research in Antarctica. More information is
available at:

http://www.nsf.gov .

JPL is a division of the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena.