Professor Preserving Penguins With Grant

Some scientists believe global warming is affecting the feeding environment of the Adélie penguin in Antarctica, and a Cal Poly biology professor is heading south to learn more. Mark Moline will travel to Antarctica in December, funded by part of a $290,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the foraging environment of the penguin species. The project is one of three ocean-related studies Moline has recently received grant funding to participate in with other scientists. Moline’s work will involve choosing and equipping remote underwater vehicles with technology that collects scientific data for analysis. The two additional projects he’s involved with will look at wind patterns and water movement off Point Conception and the feeding conditions of toothed whales off the San Diego coastline. The Adélie penguin feasts on krill and squid, but researchers have found that a reduction in sea ice and a scarcity of food have contributed to a sharp decline in the penguin populations. Moline and fellow researchers will travel to Earth’s southernmost continent with an autonomous underwater vehicle to conduct daily surveys of plants and phytoplankton consumed by krill. “Increasing water temperatures have changed where the penguins are feeding,” Moline said. “The Adélie penguins now are going 20 kilometers from shore to a feeding spot when they used to travel one kilometer.”  Moline’s work will also include a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the oceanic research along the Central Coast.  The oceanic project will study the Santa Barbara Channel and how warmer water flows north around Point Conception toward southern San Luis Obispo County during relaxation of southerly winds. This process makes temperatures warmer farther north. A $1.7 million grant from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program will fund the whale study, which Moline will work on with Oregon State University marine biologist Kelley Benoit-Bird. That project will involve capturing real-time sonar images — or video images derived from sound instead of light — to study the whales feeding at depths that haven’t been examined before. The whales’ diet includes squid, octopus and fish. Each of the studies is intended to contribute to overall efforts by scientists to better understand climate change and its potential effects on plant and animal life, Moline said.

Cal Poly biology professor Mark Moline, left, and technician Ian Robbins, right, test an underwater vehicle on a trip to the Arctic earlier this year. Norwegian biologist Geir Johnsen is in the water.

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