Thursday, 28 June 2012

Antarctic sea ice loss could lead to loss of 80% Emperor penguins

Emperor penguins threatened by Antarctic sea ice loss
June 2012. A decline in the population of emperor penguins appears likely this century as climate change reduces the extent of Antarctic sea ice, according to a detailed projection.

The study, led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), with co-authors from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other organizations, focuses on a much-observed colony of emperor penguins in Terre Adélie, Antarctica. The authors conclude that the number of breeding pairs may fall by about 80 percent by 2100.
"The projected decreases in sea ice may fundamentally alter the Antarctic environment in ways that threaten this population of penguins," says NCAR scientist Marika Holland, a co-author of the study.
The study uses a set of sophisticated computer simulations of climate as well as a statistical model of penguin demographics. Building on previous work, it examines how the sea ice may vary at key times during the year such as during egg laying, incubation, rearing chicks, and non- breeding season, as well as the potential influence of sea ice concentrations on males and females.
50 years of observations
The authors stress that their projections contain large uncertainties, because of the difficulties in projecting both climate change and the response of penguins. However, almost all of their computer simulations pointed to a significant decline in the colony at Terre Adélie, a coastal region of Antarctica where French scientists have conducted penguin observations for more than 50 years.
"Our best projections show roughly 500 to 600 breeding pairs remaining by the year 2100," says lead author Stephanie Jenouvrier, a WHOI biologist. "Today, the population size is around 3,000 breeding pairs."

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