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On being a cold bird in a warming world

where are we today?

This morning the thermometer read 7ºC  (44.6 degrees F). The sun beating down in the still air made the tent stuffy. We slept partially out of our sleeping bags, trying to grab another hour before starting the day. Soon we were unzipping the tent doors to cool off.

Warm temperatures at midsummer aren’t new to Cape Crozier, but last year marked the first 24-hour period that temperatures stayed above freezing in the 12 years Ballard has been here. This year the record stretched to 48 hours. Long-term studies like Ainley’s and Ballard’s are our only way of seeing slow changes in the world, and the unspoiled Ross Sea is one of the last places where we can still study a world as it has existed for centuries.

Tomorrow is Christmas and our last dispatch for this expedition (look for it to be posted on December 26). In the last month, we’ve been lucky to follow three research teams into the unfamiliar worlds of penguins and lava flows. We’ve traveled into the cold and the white, sheltered in Scott tents and Antarctic Ovens, roamed ridges and ice floes, jackhammered into lava, and warmed penguin chicks in our gloves. Today I wandered the sunlit colony, thinking about our two species’ futures in a warming world.

Read on about our adventure in the slideshow below. Can't see the slideshow? Get the Flash plug in»

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