(Photo: University of Delaware)
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY 2:47 p.m. EDT June 29, 2016
Penguins — easily the most known and beloved wild animal in Antarctica — could be decimated by man-made global warming over the coming decades, according to a new study.
Habitat loss caused from warmer water and loss of sea ice could bring a 60% decline in population of the Adélie penguin by 2099, said study lead author Megan Cimino.
For millions of years, Adélie penguins across Antarctica weathered natural climate change as glaciers expanded and melted. The penguins needed the warm periods as shrinking glaciers allowed them to return to their rocky breeding grounds.
But the study concludes that such helpful warming may have reached its tipping point. Longer warm periods may be shrinking the penguins’ habitat, leading to the declining population.
“It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species,” Cimino said.
A 2009 study reported that another penguin species — the emperor penguin — could face extinction by 2100 as Antarctic sea ice melts. “Sea ice is essential to the emperor penguin life cycle, as the animals use it to breed, feed, and molt,” the authors said in the 2009 study.
The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports on Wednesday, looked at various levels of warming expected over this century as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ group that is the gold standard for climate forecasts.
The study used satellite observations from 1981-2010 of sea surface temperature, sea ice and bare rock locations, and penguin population estimates from satellite photos to predict the impact of warming trends on the penguins.
Overall, the researchers reported that climate change impacts on penguins in Antarctica will likely be highly site-specific, based on regional climate trends. Some parts of the continent, and thus some of the penguins, may not be as affected by climate change as others.