The British want to build a windmill in the Antarctic, but what will that do to the birds?

Outside minus 5. Inside Robin Fine. Although it is summer in Antarctica, contact in the fresh air is not an option for the Dutch ecologist. Even the summer wind cuts through everything today, moreover, the location of the Fine should be somewhat close to the Internet connection. He estimates that “most of the people at the research station are eating lunch now, so the connection is stable enough to make calls over the Internet.”

As an ecologist from environmental consultancy Waardenburg in Culemborg, Fijn is a guest at the British research station at Rothera Point. It is located halfway between the island of Adelaide, the peninsula that stretches from Antarctica to the tip of South America. Prior to graduating as a biologist, in 2006, he also spent five months at the British Antarctic Survey’s Antarctic Station, studying the nutritional ecology of the Snow Noel. At present, he does a lot of research on the effects of wind turbines on seabirds in the North Sea. Thanks to this combination of experiences, he received a request from the British last year: whether he would like to help research the potential effects of the Antarctic windmill on breeding birds.

Hub in Antarctic Logistics

“The Rothera Research Station is a special place in Antarctica,” explains Fijn. “It’s one of the few places where planes can land and thus is a true ‘crossroads’ in Antarctic logistics.” As long as the weather isn’t too extreme, it’s a relatively accessible place where ecologists, as well as meteorologists, oceanographers, glaciologists, and other scientists can research the life, climate, glaciers, and sea around Antarctica. In the summer, more than a hundred scientists live and work there, in the winter a lot of research stops, and twenty people protect the installations from the elements.

“All of these activities require a lot of electricity,” says Feigen. It is now supplied by generators running on fuel that must be supplied to ships. These ship movements themselves cost a lot of energy and are, to some extent, also very risky in such a fragile environment. This is one of the reasons why the British Antarctic Survey would like to place a few windmills about thirty meters high around the station. The question is, of course, what effect they have on the birds that fly here.”

kenband penguins

His focus on flightless birds allows Vine to ignore the calling cards of Antarctica, many penguins. This is his research. “They can’t be ignored at the station itself,” he says with a laugh. “You might think that birds on foot would be afraid of such a high mast with swinging blades, but for example, the penguins you have here a lot, you only have to walk between people and snowmobiles at the station. So they won’t care about the wind turbines.” .

It might be quite different for the shy Antarctic cormorants or the Antarctic flocks breeding around the station. In addition to the risk of collision, they can also be disturbed during breeding, or they can avoid places with turbines. That is why Fijn caught thirty cormorants and placed a transmitter on them. He uses these transmitters to study the use of space by birds, on land, at sea and in the air.

British research station at Rothera Point.Robin Vigne Statue / Wardenburg Office

“They record locations within a few decimeters and send them to a special antenna we put in the colony. Most transmitters save a GPS location every five minutes and then run for about three weeks. Then the battery is empty. Some channels work repeatedly. We can measure in more detail how to use These birds are for the airspace around the base, and therefore also whether or not they would be affected by a windmill.”

In addition to transmitters, Fijn also brought special avian radar to Antarctica, as well as advanced binoculars with built-in lasers. This allows him to measure flight altitudes to the nearest metre. “Combining transmitter data from individual birds and the flight paths and flight altitudes of all birds at the site provides the most complete 3D picture possible of flight movements around the base,” he says.


The second type of bird that Fijn is looking for is the South Polar Skua, a “predatory gull” that sometimes looks for its food, but does not turn its wing to steal prey from other gulls, cormorants or petrels. Antarctic skuas are highly migratory birds. When winter comes in the southern hemisphere, they migrate all the way to Canada “summer there”.

A relatively large number of these fishermen breed around the island of Adelaide. With nearly ten percent of the world’s population, the area is also legally designated an Important Bird Area, under which protection has been legally ratified under the International Antarctic Treaty. “We also want to map the space use of these birds very accurately, to see the potential impact of the windmill.”

Cormorants dive to a depth of at least 85 meters

Besides the potential effects of windmills, Fijn is also interested in the biology of birds. “It is of course special that we can follow these birds in this way. For example, there is also a pressure gauge on the transmitters of cormorants, which allows them to record the depth underwater. We have already seen the birds diving as deep as 85 meters to catch fish. They were These depths are already known to penguins, but this is unprecedented for flying birds. We also hope to know where these birds migrate in the Antarctic winter, because that is not yet clear.”

A little earlier than hoped, Fijn has to return to the Netherlands. “In a few days, a large supply ship will be docked at the dock and as long as that ship is there, planes cannot take off or land. So unfortunately I have to leave before that ship arrives.” Fortunately for Fine, data is retrieved from channels and forwarded automatically. “At the end of the breeding season, we should be able to get a good impression of where windmills can do the least damage. Everyone agrees that it is beneficial to significantly reduce the fuel consumption of generators and thus the environmental impact of being in Antarctica.”

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Megan Vasquez

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