Work of Professor and Noted Penguin Scholar Emslie Featured in Esteemed Geology Journal

Friday, September 18, 2020

While he has taught at UNCW since 1998, Professor of Biology and Marine Biology Steven Emslie first trekked to Antarctica in 1991 to assist a colleague with seabird and penguin research. In the decades since, Emslie has traveled to Antarctica to study climate change and penguin paleohistory more than fifteen times, including many undergraduate and graduate students in this research. 

His research findings have been published in one of the most widely read scientific journals in his field. “Ancient Adelie Penguin Colony Revealed by Snowmelt at Cape Irizar, Ross Sea, Antarctica” appears in the latest online edition of Geology. His work was funded by the National Science Foundation Grant ANT-1443386 with logistical support from the U.S. and Italian Antarctic Programs.

As described in the paper’s abstract, fresh-appearing remains and carcasses of penguins have been revealed from under ice and snow by the recent warming trend in the Ross Sea. The carcasses, bones, and feathers on the surface are 800 years old or older. While perishable tissues and archaeological artifacts have been discovered in recent decades from glacial melt in Europe and North America, this is the first known occurrence of this in Antarctica.

Emslie finds it “very satisfying” to have his work published in a journal that is intensely peer-reviewed. “That strengthens and validates the paper and its results among the scientific community,” he said. “It will be viewed by a broad audience and hopefully generate more research in this region of Antarctica.”

For the past five years, Emslie has taught a course on the ecology, geology, history and policy of Antarctica. He incorporates his research experiences into the class, which provides a full overview of the awe-inspiring continent. Students from that course Ashley McKenzie ’20, Megan Reaves ’19 (now a current graduate student) and Charlie Rachunok ’21 assisted with fieldwork and/or lab preparation of penguin tissue samples for stable isotope analysis related to this research.

-- Caroline Cropp