A volcano erupting on a small island in the Sub Antarctic is depositing ash over one of the world’s largest penguin colonies.
Zavodovski Island is a small island in the South Sandwich archipelago and its volcano Mt Curry has been erupting since March 2016. The island is home to over one million chinstrap penguins – the largest colony for this species in the world.
There are actually two volcanoes that are currently erupting in the South Sandwich Islands. Mt Curry on Zavodovski Island to the north of the archipelago and Mt Sourabaya on Bristol Island to the south.
Last month, a powerful M7.2 earthquake struck in the vicinity. Following the earthquake, fishermen captured photos of the Zavodovski Island eruption. The pictures show the main volcanic vent is on the western side of the island, but the prevailing wind is blowing the smoke and ash to the east, and depositing much of it on the lower slopes of the volcano. These are home to the chinstraps, closely packed in great numbers. In addition there are around 180,000 macaroni penguins.
Satellite images have confirmed that between one third and one half of the island has so far been covered in ash. At the time photos were taken, the adult chinstraps were moulting, shedding their old feathers for new ones and therefore unable to leave the island.
Scientists don’t know what impact the ash will have on the penguins. If it has been heavy and widespread it may have a serious effect on the population. Indeed, the images were captured during the moult period. First consequenses of this event will be when the penguins return to breed later in the year.
This is the first time that Zavodovski Island has been witnessed erupting, although there is evidence that it erupted in the 1970s, possibly in the 1980s and as late as 2012, although the nature of those eruptions is unknown.