The adélie penguins eat only krill, and if they don't change their species may soon be extinct. Petermann Island sits at the southern border of the gentoo range and the northern edge of the adélies range. Over the past five years the temperatures have risen, the glacier is melting, the sea ice is thinner, the krill are less abundant. For the gentoo this change has meant they can extend their feeding and breeding range. But for the adélies penguins the warmer temperatures mean dwindling numbers. Five years ago the scientists on Petermann Island counted 2000 pairs of adélies and 60 pairs of gentoos. Last year the tally was adélie 500, gentoo 2000.
I look at the glacier edge and at the surface of the sea in much the same way, wondering, “What secrets are you hiding?” Gazing at the ocean I see only the surface of the water and a few feet down. I gaze at a distant crevasse and imagine it as an unspoken invitation to enter the world beneath the ice. These things remind me that for all our accumulated learning, we know so little. On the walk back we veered closer to the shore, and as close to the edge of the glacier as we’re allowed to approach. Where the snow had melted we see boulders emerging, glistening with the runoff of yesterday’s snow. Palmer Station, Torgersen and Litchfield Islands, and some of the other smaller islands that I can’t yet identify by shape dot the landscape below us. The clouds swoop in on the breeze coming from the sea, and the surface of the water turns grey, bits of ice bobbing at the surface. Ice dots the bay looking like a vast room covered in sculpture. One looks like a swan.