The bare fact is: the Antarctic sea ice is retreating due to global warming. But we are just learning what the consequences of this will be. The Economist devotes this week’s front page and special report to the issue, and researchers keep providing us with alarming data; the latest news: that one of most iconic Antarctic figures, the Emperor penguin, which became famous thanks to the documentary ‘March of the Penguins’ and the animation film ‘Happy Feet’, may soon be extinct.
This is the conclusion of an international team of researchers who just published their study in Global Change Biology. They made a population projection for the emperor penguin in Adélie Land, Antarctica, based on data from different sources.
‘The median of these simulations predicts a decline of the Terre Adelie emperor penguin population of 81% by the year 2100,’ they write in their study. ‘We find a 43% chance of an even greater decline, of 90% or more.’
The main problem for the emperor penguin is that they breed their children on the ice, so the retreat of sea ice affects them more than other sea birds. Also, they eat animals that feed on microorganisms growing under the ice. If this disappears, so it does the penguin’s food source.
‘As it is, there’s a huge mortality rate just at the breeding stages, because only 50 percent of chicks survive to the end of the breeding season,’ says Stephanie Jenouvrier, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and lead researcher of the study. ‘And then only half of those fledglings survive until the next year.’
Below you can see a video by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Stephanie Jenouvrier, Marika Holland, Julienne Stroeve, Christophe Barbraud, Henri Weimerskirch, Mark Serreze, & Hal Caswell (2012). Effects of climate change on an emperor penguin population: analysis of coupled demographic and climate models Global Change Biology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02744.x
The Life Cycle of an Emperor Penguin
Bobbie Kalman, Robin Johnson