Sheridan man’s research in Antarctica tracks decline in sea ice, Adelie penguins

DUNCAN ADAMS

The aging Coast Guard icebreaker moored itself for the long winter night at the sea ice edge in the Weddell Sea off the eastern coast of the Antarctica Peninsula. 

The temperature dropped precipitously as some crew members and scientists turned in. The year was 1988, more than 70 years after explorer Ernest Shackleton’s wooden ship Endurance became trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea and was ultimately crushed.

Researcher Bill Fraser was aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker as part of a winter expedition into the Weddell Sea, one of the first such missions ever attempted at that time of year. 

“Truly the most inhospitable place I’d ever been,” he recalled recently during an interview at his home near Sheridan.  

He and others woke the next morning to a memorable seascape. 

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“There was fresh sea ice as far as you could see,” Fraser said. “And surrounding our ship were tens of thousands of Adelie penguins.”

That morning was a turning point for Fraser. His previous research in Antarctica had focused on seabirds such as the southern black-backed gull.

But he realized that the Adelie penguin, a flightless bird, offered a

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