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European bumblebees invading South America

‘One of the most spectacular examples of the invasion of an entire continent by a foreign species introduced by man …’

A bumblebee

A bumblebee

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The introduction of European bumblebees to South America as pollinators may backfire in the most spectacular way. Ecologists tracking the rapid spread of the non-native species say the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), is rapidly displacing native bees with as-yet unknown ecosystem consequences.

The European bumblebees were brought into central Chile in 1998 to help pollinate fruits and vegetables, as agricultural producers looked to replace dwindling honeybee colonies. Some of the buff-tailed bumblebees soon escaped from the greenhouses, established colonies in the wild and started spreading south all the way to Patagonia. Continue reading

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Climate: Big changes projected for Patagonia ice fields

Global warming pushes southern hemisphere’s westerlies farther south, with profound implications for water storage and management in South America

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A 2009 NASA image from the International Space Station shows a Patagonia ice field glacier flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory Page for more information.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Parts of Chile and Argentina may face significant water issues as global warming pushes a belt of westerly winds farther south. Those winds are critical to maintaining the central and northern Patagonia ice fields, which maintain seasonal water storage capacity for both countries.

“We found that precipitation brought to this region by Southern Hemisphere westerlies played an important role in the glaciation of the North Patagonian Ice-Fields,” said Dr, Chris Fogwill, with the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. Continue reading

Argentina creates new marine reserves in Patagonia

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Parts of Patagonia‘s spectacular coastline will have more protection following the designation of two new marine preserves.

Isla Pingüino and Makenke Coastal Marine Park provide habitat for seabirds and marine mammals

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Dolphins, penguins, seabirds and sea lions along the coast of Patagonia will get more protection in a pair of new marine protected areas designated by Argentina this week.

Both areas were identified as priority conservation sites under the collaborative Patagonia Coastal Zone Management Plan project, covering an area where Charles Darwin traveled, and where Ferdinand Magellan executed and marooned a group of mutineers intent on aborting what would become the world’s first circumnavigation of the globe.

Darwin first described the wildlife of Isla Pingüino in 1833, during his seminal voyage aboard the HMS Beagle — now, the  Isla Pingüino Coastal Marine Park will protect about 720 square miles, including habitat for large populations of South American sea lions, red-legged cormorants, and one of the largest colonies of imperial cormorants found anywhere (with more than 8,000 breeding pairs). Isla Pingüino also boasts one of the only colonies of rockhopper penguins on the coast of Patagonia. Continue reading

Morning photo: Far-flung

Travel dreams …

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The Burren, an extensive karst formation in northwest Ireland.

FRISCO — A quick spin to some far-flung corners of the globe for some armchair travel in today’s photo essay … from Europe to the Caribbean, back to the Balkans and finally Patagonia, which really is as close to the ends of the Earth that you can get. Hey, a vicarious trip is better than no trip at all, right? Check our online gallery at FineArt America for more landscape images. Continue reading

Morning photo: Peaks

Reaching for the sky …

A classic Patagonia skyline features some of the craggiest peaks in the world.

FRISCO — I missed my favorite Twitter chat last week, but got all giddy when I saw this week’s #FriFotos theme — peaks. I live amidst the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, and at least a third of the pictures in my ever-growing photo archives features peaks in all shapes and sizes. I’m looking forward to seeing great images of mountains from around the world. It’s easy to join the fun. Just upload your own favorite peak pictures, tag then with #FriFotos and post them to Twitter, share and comment.

The M/V Professor Molchanov at anchor near a remote peak in Antarctica.

Continue reading

Global warming: Glacier melt speeding up in Patagonia

Patagonian ice fields and glaciers are melting quickly and contributing to sea level rise.

Southernmost ice fields thinning by about six feet per year

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The largest ice fields in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica are melting faster than ever — at a rate that has increased by 50 percent in the past dozen years compared to the 30 years before 2ooo. On average, the southern Patagonia ice fields are thinning by about six feet per year.

Scientists have been monitoring cycles in southern glaciers of the Andes for at least four decades, and have detected an overall loss of ice as the climate warms. Now the region is becoming a poster child for climate change, said Michael Willis, lead author of the study and a research associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“We are characterizing a region that is supplying water to sea level at a big rate, compared to its size,” said Willis.

The Southern Patagonian Icefield together with its smaller northern neighbor, the Northern Patagonian Icefield, are the largest icefields in the southern hemisphere — excluding Antarctica. The new study shows that the icefields are losing ice faster since the turn of the century and contributing more to sea level rise than ever before. Continue reading

Amazing journey: Elephant seal treks 18,000 miles

Wildlife group tracks pinniped as part of Patagonia study

A NOAA photo of northern elephant seals on the coast of California.

By Summit County

SUMMIT COUNTY — A southern elephant seal nick-named Jackson astonished researchers when it swam more than 18,000 miles during the past year, about equal to a round trip from New York to Sydney and back again.

The Wildlife Conservation Society tracked the giant pinniped through the rugged fjords of Patagonia as a part of a research project for a new model of private-public, terrestrial-marine conservation of the Admiralty Sound, Karukinka Natural Park (a WCS private protected area), and Alberto de Agostini National Park. It will help build a broader vision for bolstering conservation efforts across the Patagonian Sea and coast.

“Jackson’s travels provide a roadmap of how elephant seals use the Patagonian Coast and its associated seas,” said Caleb McClennen, Wildlife Conservation Society director for global marine programs. “This information is vital to improving ocean management in the region, helping establish protected areas in the right places, and ensuring fisheries are managed sustainably without harming vulnerable marine species like the southern elephant seal.” Continue reading

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