New climate crystal ball: “Mummified penguins”

From  the AGU and “anything’s a climate proxy, as long as it’s dead” department.

Mummified penguins tell of past and future deadly weather

By Larry O’Hanlon (AGU)

New research links the mummified remains of penguin chicks in Antarctica to two massive weather-related calamities that could become more commonplace with climate change.

Chinese and Australian researchers found the mummified carcasses of hundreds of Adélie penguins on Long Peninsula, East Antarctica, in sediments that not only recorded heavy run-off events, but also helped to unlock the ages of the events.

Active penguin, colony in East Antarctica near the study site. Image courtesy of Yuesong Gao.

Taken individually, penguin carcasses are not unusual, explained Yuesong Gao, a co-author of the paper in Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, published by the American Geophysical Union. But when the researchers studied the sediments in which they found the mummies, most of the carcasses turned out to be from two specific calamities that occurred in breeding colonies about 750 and 200 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating of the mummies and the sediments.

“First of all, the extent of carcasses and abandoned colonies struck us,” said Gao, of the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei. “Then we were surprised by the consistent dates of the mummies. We had expected a much larger range of dates.”

Penguin graveyard: 200-year-old abandoned penguin colony, littered with mummified carcasses. Image courtesy of Yuesong Gao.

The researchers were also struck by the unusually thick layers of sediments in which the mummies were buried. These were evidence of a lot of water flowing over the surface over a short period of time. That would require anomalously wet weather in hyper-arid Antarctica, and it’s particularly deadly to penguin chicks which, unlike their parents, have not yet developed waterproof feathers. Snowy and rainy weather can soak chicks to the skin and sap away their body heat, causing them to weaken and die from hypothermia.

“We found that relatively short periods of climate anomaly in the past have caused terrible consequences to the penguin population,” said Gao.

A mummified penguin chick, dated to 750 years ago. Image courtesy of Yuesong Gao.

The meteorological recipe that best explains the penguin colony collapses is a climate anomaly known for bringing a lot of moisture south from the mid-latitudes and increasing near-shore ice – a pattern called zonal wave number 3, or ZW3, for short.

The frequency of ZW3 anomalies has increased in the late 20th century, as the Earth’s climate has changed in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to previous research. As a result, some places in Antarctica have seen more snow accumulation between 1970 and 2009 than in the previous 1,000 years, the researchers report.

Another abandoned penguin colony with mummified carcasses. This graveyard is dated to 750 years ago. Living penguins can be seen in the upper left. Image courtesy of Yuesong Gao.

If die-off events like those of 200 and 750 years ago become more common, it could be very bad news for the Adélie penguins, according to the study’s authors.

“We should pay attention to the threats of climate change to penguins,” Gao said.

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58 thoughts on “New climate crystal ball: “Mummified penguins”

  1. And yet, we still have penguins. Go figure. Kinda mysterious like all the leftover Polar Bears after the ice free eras of the arctic.

    • Not only do we still have penguins, it seems as though they haven’t gone anywhere either as evidenced by the live penguins standing in the background of the photographs.
      Perhaps those are all just extras arriving for the casting call for the next “Happy Feet” movie.

    • The above paper is meaningless as the 200 years ago event was in the Little Ice Age and the 750 years ago event was during the Medieval Warm Period. They have discovered that sh*t happens. Wow, what a finding. Does it not bother them that this is the correlation that makes not sense.

      “The frequency of ZW3 anomalies has increased in the late 20th century, ”
      They claim such events have become more common but where are the date of recent such events. 200 and 750 tells us nothing about frequency. So, where are the recent such events?

      • I find it astonishing (though I suppose I shouldn’t) that every time researchers find something that happened long ago without any contribution from the burning of fossil fuels, they feel compelled to claim that it points to future calamity as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Weather events happen… get over it.

  2. > “We found that relatively short periods of climate anomaly in the past have caused terrible consequences to the penguin population,” said Gao.

    The words you are looking far; “bad weather.”

    • Despite the fact that it has happened before, this time it’s caused by CO2.

      You can trust we’re Kristi certified scientists.

      • Now only happened before….the found it was warmer and wetter 750 and 200 years ago…
        …for them to stay mummified and not rot…they had to stay cold and dry

        • And who knows how many little penguin corpses are buried under the snow in other parts of East Antarctica? Wasn’t it the Adelies that they were telling us had been decimated-until they found another massive colony?

          • John,

            From below:

            “The first global census (2014) of the Adélie penguin…revealed its population (3.79 million breeding pairs) to be 53 percent larger than previously estimated.”

    • Dang, you beat me to it. Rob_Dawg. “Climate anomaly” is clearly the new phrase for “weather.”
      I can see it now on the BBC after the evening news…”And here is tomorrow’s climate anomaly forecast for your local region.”

  3. So, the weather phenomenon occurred hundreds of years before the advent of so-called AGW, but, at the same time, Antarctica has experienced much more snow in the last forty years than the previous 1000 years? I’ve never read such nonsense in my life. Wait, I do experience it each time I try to make sense of a pronouncement from an alleged climate “scientist”.

  4. As always, anything that changed in the late 20th century is caused by CO2.
    No matter how many times it has happened in the past.

  5. Of it looks like a load of BS and if it smells like a load of BS, then it’s probably the work of an alarmist climate “scientist”. And this one smells worse than a colony of penguins.

      • Why not make the CO2 scale from 274 to375ppm – the graphic would look even more dramatic.
        But, for heaven’s sake don’t make the scale from 0 to 1,000ppm.

        • The scale is appropriate for the data range. The Law Dome DE08 ice core 2,000-yr record has a range of about 275-375 ppm.

          During the Phanerozoic Eon, atmospheric CO2 has rarely been below 250 ppm and never close to 0.

          So starting the y-axis at 0 would be idiotic.

  6. Let’s play spot the logical fail:

    > If die-off events like those of 200 and 750 years ago become more common,

    Two satins and they not only know frequency but can derive a trend.

  7. From 2014:

    Happy Feet III: Adélie penguin population actually on the rise

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140709095303.htm

    The first global census of the Adélie penguin, long considered a key indicator species to monitor and understand the effects of climate change and fishing in the Southern Ocean, has revealed its population (3.79 million breeding pairs) to be 53 percent larger than previously estimated. By using high-resolution satellite imagery, researchers have applied a new method that permits regular monitoring of Adélie penguins across their entire breeding range, and by extension the health of the Southern Ocean ecosystem.

  8. It’s known that the waters around Antarctica are depleted in C14, because of the run-off of ancient water from glacier melt and poor mixing of marine waters.

    Because of this, frozen mummified animals give more distant C14 dates than the time of their death.

    The abstract of the linked papers says, “For dates based on shells, seaweeds, seal bones and penguin bones the minimum [radiocarbon] correction factor for South Georgia is ca. 750 years and for the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula it may be up to 1250–1300 years.

    I haven’t read the head-post paper, but the researchers should have taken account of the need to correct antarctic radiocarbon dates. If they did not, then their dates of penguin death are all too distant.

      • Maybe they’ve eaten the brains of climate scientists.

        Mod? Why am I having to sign in every time I comment?

        [Don’t know. Cookies “rejected”, so there is no record of your previous login_id? .mod]

        • It’s happening to me as well. I had this problem when you fist switched to the new server. Then it went away. After the crash, it came back.

  9. Well, I looked at the head-post paper. They used the Marine13 C-14 calibration curve for dating their mummified penguins.

    The paper introducing the Marine 13 calibration curve says this: “Marine13 is based on tropical and subtropical records, its application to 14C ages from samples at higher latitudes must take into consideration additional and possibly large changes in the age of the local surface ocean (lots of references).

    Reimer, et al. (2013) RADIOCARBON 55(4), 1869–1887.

    It appears that Marine13 will not properly normalize Antarctic C-14 dates. It seems, therefore, that the head-post paper penguin death dates are too old by at least several centuries.

    For example, Negrete, et al. (2011) RADIOCARBON 53(1), 161–166 reported a mummified Antarctic crabeater seal that gave a radiocarbon date of 1180 years BP. On applying the Antarctic calibration offset, its actual death date was within 100 years ago.

  10. “…The frequency of ZW3 anomalies has increased in the late 20th century, as the Earth’s climate has changed in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to previous research…. ” So what caused the 250 and 750 year ago events?

  11. If an event is in the past it’s a climate anomaly. If it’s in the future it’s Climate Change and much worse.

  12. Why did they conclude that the chicks died of excessively wet weather and not some epidemic. Some how there are so called scientists and certainly environmentalists that refuse to accept that animals die of natural occurring diseases totally unrelated to humans. In colonies where the populations are so close to each other a disease, probably viral, could decimate a population of susceptible chicks.

  13. What in the Wide World of Sports does mummified penguin chicks have to do with geophysics? The AGU has gone totally off-scale!

  14. Mummified penguins, huh? Personally, I trust the color of the moss growing on my oak trees, as view at 1 AM by candlelight.

  15. “By Larry O’Hanlon (AGU)

    New research links the mummified remains of penguin chicks in Antarctica to two massive weather-related calamities that could become more commonplace with climate change.”

    “The frequency of ZW3 anomalies has increased in the late 20th century, as the Earth’s climate has changed in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to previous research. As a result, some places in Antarctica have seen more snow accumulation between 1970 and 2009 than in the previous 1,000 years, the researchers report. ”

    “If die-off events like those of 200 and 750 years ago become more common”

    The magic and extremely frightening “if

    These researchers should also return all grants and funds received.

    A) They ignore how old the die-offs are while hyping a claim that they will occur more frequently.
    B) The ignore polar cycles and assume that Antarctica’s cooling cycle is forever.
    C) They ignore that our interglacial is cooling over the long term and Earth could be heading back into the deep freeze. Where vegans learn to subsist on conifers and low nutrient steppe grasses.
    D) They apparently didn’t bother to identify and date every possible occurrence since the last glacial. Not just the ones where penguin chicks died.
    E) It is rather obvious that they irrationally presumed climate knowledge to make their ‘predictions’ to frighten the gullible.

  16. Someone should rewrite this paper and show that the LIA and the MWP were indeed global. What is wrong with these people.
    1) Natural Variability gave us two major calamities for the penguins.
    2) They were killed by two “climate anomalies”. The only climate anomalies we had for those dates were the MWP and the LIA. They were purposely vague because they didnt want to support the global existence of these two overwhelming climate states.
    3) They conclude that we should be worried about a repeat of this, but only because of climate change! So we should worry about it getting either colder or hotter?
    4 Antarctic Climate specialist Turney, Commodore of the Ozzie Ship of Fools a few years ago, came across this field of dead penguins and was brought to tears at what anthropes had done with their fossil fuel burning! He was decorated with an award from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Research! I kid you not.

  17. Is this not just a minor variation on Future Prediction using chicken entrails, as so successfully used in ancient Egypt?
    They always knew what was coming in the way of plague, flood and pestilence – just ask the next ancient Egyptian you meet.
    Maybe in the coffee shop tomorrow. That’d be nice.

  18. A Prof of mine helped ‘invent’ this penguin research tequnique in NZ. He noted that stray Ice island strandings blocking off feeding access to colonies was the normal cause of mass chick deaths. Not uncommon……

  19. Two events 550 years apart.
    And from this they can predict the future?

    Double, double toil and trouble:
    Fire burn and cauldrons bubble

  20. I thought mummified penguins would go well with this:

    “Pressed rat and warthog, closed down their shop
    They didn’t want to, it was all they had got
    Selling atonal apples, amplified heat
    And pressed rat’s collection of dog legs and feet”

    “Pressed Rat and Warthog” by Peter Edward (Ginger) Baker

  21. Yet another useless study about a subject that will have no consequence whatsoever. These people need to be stopped!

    • Well sometimes Gaia manages to do that with ships of fools so she’s doing her best. I have no problem with the science just the interpretation as usual but then I don’t speak in tongues. Reminds me of boyhood and cowboy and indian movies with that popular line -White man speak with forked tongue!

  22. The frequency of ZW3 anomalies has increased in the late 20th century, as the Earth’s climate has changed in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to previous research.

    Previous research…

    Long time series of reanalyses, from NCEP–NCAR and from ECMWF, are used to investigate the occurrence of persistent positive anomalies (PPAs) in the 500-hPa geopotential height field over the Southern Hemisphere extratropics during 1958–2001. Defining persistent anomalies as those of at least 100 m in magnitude lasting for at least 5 days, it is found that the region of most frequent occurrence is over the South Pacific. A cluster analysis of monthly PPA counts shows two distinct patterns, one a zonal wavenumber-1 (ZW1) pattern centered over the southeast Pacific near 60°S and the other a zonal wavenumber-3 (ZW3) pattern with centers near New Zealand and over the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Results were insensitive to the choice of dataset, and to the removal of a linear trend from the daily height fields. The southeast Pacific PPA region is strongly modulated by ENSO, while the ZW3 pattern appears only weakly related to ENSO variability. A strong upward trend is apparent in occurrence of the ZW3 cluster, related to a matching trend in the variance of the height fields, particularly those from ECMWF. Such trends are at least in part a consequence of changes in the observing system, particularly the introduction of satellite soundings in the late 1970s.

    https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/MWR2900.1

  23. If die-off events like those of 200 and 750 years ago become more common, it could be very bad news… And I like bad news. Now show me we just had a die-off event like this!

    I’m waiting…

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