The ash from two consecutive Antarctic volcano eruptions has covered the world’s largest penguin colony and their ice habitat. The chinstrap penguin population is now trapped on the island with no chance to escape from the ash waves and the volcanic eruptions.
The Zavodovski Island is located near the South Sandwich Islands. The area is renowned for its smell, which is caused by the sulfuric emissions from Mt. Curry. Moreover, the island is tiny and isolated and has no permanent residents other than the penguins.
The stratovolcano on the island is sometimes named Mount Asphyxia, due to the combined smell of penguin poop and sulfurous gasses. However, the official name of the mountain bears the memory of an Argentinean sailor that lost his life in a naval fight.
The chinstrap penguin colony has more than 1 million members and is one of the largest in the world.
The region had to undertake a 7.2 magnitude earthquake earlier this year. The surface shake was followed by the eruption of two volcanoes, Mt. Curry and Mt. Sourabaya from the Bristol Island.
Scientists believe that the violence of the explosion and the powerful earthquake are signs that the volcano eruptions will most probably continue in the next months. It is possible that the amount of magma situated under the surface is large enough to sustain other seismic events.
Fishermen caught pictures of the Mt. Curry volcano eruptions, showing the ashes that started to cover the lower slopes of the mountain, which are the habitat of the chinstrap penguin colony and the home of other 180,000 macaroni penguins.
Satellite images also have shown that more than one-third of the island had been already covered in ashes.
The news is even more worrying as the penguins have no chance to escape. Normally, they could go into the water and find another island where to settle and continue their habits. However, in this period of the year, the penguins were molting. This means they have to wait to grow new feathers in order to enter the water, wash off the debris, and maybe move to another place.
The Antarctic geographers say that it is difficult to estimate the impact on the colony. As the ash was very dense and the wind carried it all over the island, the effects could be extremely damaging to the penguin population.
The wildlife experts will organize two expeditions in the area to visit the penguin habitat and to assess the impact of the volcanic eruption. The journeys will take place sometime between December 2016 and January 2017.
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