Unfortunate feet: Emperor penguins can be wiped out by climate change within 80 years, scientists claim
- Researchers have modeled the effect of different climate scenarios on penguins
- Melting sea ice reduces the available areas they have to raise their young
- Below the target 1.5 ° C (2.7 ° F) temperature rise 19 percent of the colonies disappear
- But if nothing is done to reduce climate change, extinction is anything but certain
Emperor penguins can be wiped out by uncontrolled climate change within 80 years as their icy habitat shrinks, a study has warned.
The fate of the birds – some of the most striking and charismatic creatures on earth – is largely linked to the fate of sea ice on which they breed.
Emperor penguins only build their colonies in very specific circumstances.
Ice must be trapped in the coastline of the Antarctic continent, while it is close enough to open seawater for the birds to access food for themselves and their young.
As the climate gets warmer, this sea ice will gradually disappear and the birds will deprive their habitat, food sources and the ability to hatch chicks.
Scroll down for video
Emperor penguins can be wiped out by uncontrolled climate change within 80 years as their icy habitat shrinks, a study has warned
& # 39; If (the) global climate continues to warm up at the current rate, we expect emperor penguins in Antarctica to have an 86 percent decrease by the year 2100, said marine bird ecologist Stephanie Jenouvrier of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
& # 39; At that time it is very unlikely that they will bounce back. & # 39;
In their research, Dr. Jenouvrier and colleagues combined two existing computer models.
The first – a global climate model created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) – provides projections of where and when sea ice is likely to form under different climate scenarios.
The other, a model of the penguin population itself, calculated how colonies could respond to such changes in their icy habitat.
& # 39; We have been developing that penguin model for 10 years & # 39 ;, said Dr. Jenouvrier.
& # 39; It can provide a very detailed account of how sea ice influences the life cycle of emperor penguins, their reproduction and mortality. & # 39;
& # 39; When we incorporate the results of the NCAR model into it, we can begin to see how different global temperature targets can affect the population of emperor penguins as a whole. & # 39;
The fate of the birds – some of the most striking and charismatic creatures on earth – is largely linked to the fate of sea ice on which they breed
As the climate gets warmer, sea ice will gradually disappear – the birds deprive their habitat, food sources and the ability to hatch chicks
The researchers used their model with three different scenarios.
The first considered a future in which the average global temperature only increased by 1.5 ° C (2.7 ° F) – the goal of the Paris climate agreement.
The other two scenarios examined average rises of 2 ° C (3.6 °) and around 5–6 ° C (9-10.8 ° F) – the latter being the predicted temperature rise in the & # 39; business-as-usual & # 39; case without action is taken to reduce climate change.
In the first scenario, the study found that five percent of the sea ice would be lost by the year 2100, reducing the number of penguin colonies by 19 percent.
However, as the planet warms up by 2 ° C (3.6 °), those numbers increase dramatically, with the loss of sea ice nearly tripling and more than a third of the existing emperor penguin colonies disappearing at the end of the century.
& # 39; If the global climate continues to warm up at the current rate, we expect emperor penguins in Antarctica to have a 86 percent decrease by the year 2100, said marine bird ecologist Stephanie Jenouvrier of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
The & # 39; business-as-usual & # 39; scenario is even worse, dr. Jenouvrier on, with the extinction of almost all penguin colonies almost guaranteed.
& # 39; In that scenario, the penguins will effectively die out in the coming century, & # 39; she said.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Global Change Biology.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE LIFE CYCLE OF EMPEROR PENGINS?
The emperor penguin is the largest species of penguin, reaches a height of approximately 1.2 meters and weighs between 22 kilos and 44 kilos.
They are recognizable by their characteristic black back and head, white chest and yellow spots on their necks.
The non-flying birds live in Antarctica and crawl together to stay warm in the icy climate, where temperatures rise to -90 ° C.
Emperor penguins breed and raise their offspring almost exclusively on sea ice, with the females laying eggs before hunting for food and allowing the males to hatch the egg.
If there is not enough sea ice, this reduces the availability of breeding sites and prey for emperor penguins, but too much ice means longer hunting trips for adults, which means that they cannot feed their chicks that often
After the chick is born, the parents take turns searching for the sea and taking care of the newborn in the colony.
The birds' diet consists mainly of fish, but they also eat shellfish, such as krill, and cephalopods, such as squid. To facilitate hunting, the penguins can stay under water for up to 18 minutes and dive to a depth of 1,755 ft.
The relationship between emperor penguins and sea ice is fragile.
If there is not enough sea ice, this reduces the availability of breeding sites and prey, but too much ice means longer hunting trips for adults, which means that they cannot feed their chicks that often.
. (tagsToTranslate) dailymail (t) sciencetech (t) Climate change and global warming