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Copa field camp in January.
Photo Credit: Wayne Trivelpiece
The Copa field camp in January. Penguin diets aren't the only signs of climate change. The Trivelpieces note that lakes now sit where two glaciers once stood, indications that the Antarctic Peninsula is warming rapidly.

Unique collaboration of agencies

Wayne Trivelpiece began working on King George Island in 1976 for his PhD in zoology out of a tent camp that first season. Poland established a research station in Trivelpiece’s study area along Admiralty Bay in 1977, and until 1985, he and later Susan worked at the Henryk Arctowski Station as guests and visiting scientists of the Polish.

In 1985, NSF established a new camp (named Copacabana, or Copa) a few kilometers from Arctowski to continue the long-term study of the three Pygoscelis penguins. In 1997, NOAA incorporated the project into its Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) External U.S. government site program established by the AMLR Convention Act of 1984, with the goal of managing the Southern Ocean External U.S. government site resources through an ecosystem approach. Since that time, NSF and NOAA have been partners in supporting the research at Copa.

On the Peninsula
Special Projects: Remote operations
Camp Life: Away from the lab
Cape Shirreff: Keeping track

The United States passed the AMLR Act in response to an international treaty, the Convention for the Convention of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) External U.S. government site, established in 1982 over the concerns of krill commercial fishing. The treaty between 25 nations seeks to manage Antarctic fisheries to preserve species diversity and stabilize the entire Antarctic marine ecosystem.

About 10 years ago, NOAA invited Wayne Trivelpiece to supervise the seabird research at Copa and at the newly constructed NOAA camp on Livingston Island called Cape Shirreff. NSF and NOAA collaborate on supporting the camps, with the former opening the two facilities in October and November with its research vessel the ARSV Laurence M. Gould External U.S. government site. NOAA’s RV Yuzhmorgeologiya, a Russian vessel, and staff then shutter the camps for the winter in March.

Russian research vessel used by NOAA.
Photo Credit: Steve Session/ NOAA Magazine
RV Yuzhmorgeologiy

“The two agencies recognized the scientific and applied values of the long-term study and that it was unique in that respect. It appealed to both of them,” Wayne Trivelpiece says of the agreement. “We couldn’t do our program at all without NSF’s help. We couldn’t get anyone in to our field camps early in the year because we don’t have our own ship until January. I think this is a really great marriage for both of the agencies.”

More signs of climate change

For many years, however, the Trivelpieces were NSF grantees. Much has changed in the last four decades, and there are more visible signs of climate change in the Antarctic Peninsula region than what scientists are finding in the bellies of penguins.

The researchers spend many of their days hiking to penguin colonies and skua nests. Two big chinstrap colonies about 15 kilometers away used to require crossing a pair of glaciers. Two large lakes now sit in front of the glaciers.

“Those glaciers have receded so much that one has become quite dangerous to cross,” noted Susan Trivelpiece, who arrives on the island each year in October. “NSF has given us canoes to transit in front. That’s worked out well.”

Wayne Trivelpiece said the melting glaciers should be physical proof to many climate skeptics that the world is warming on a grand scale. “We are now canoeing across these mile-wide lakes where 80-foot glacier cliffs used to stand,” he said.

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs