Global warming is melting sea ice so fast that more than half of Antarctica’s population of Emperor penguins are set to be wiped out by the end of the century, according to alarming new research saying they should be listed as an endangered species.
Not a single one of Antarctica’s 45 known colonies of Emperor penguins will be immune to melting sea ice, with at least two-thirds likely to see their populations decline by more than half, the report warns.
“If sea ice declines at rates projected by the climate models and continues to influence Emperor penguins as it did in the second half of the 20th century in Terre Adelie, none of the colonies, even the southern-most locations in the Ross Sea, will provide a viable refuge by the end of the 21st Century,” warned lead author Dr Stephanie Jenouvrier.
She called for the Emperor to be given “endangered species” status to help reduce the damage climate change is inflicting upon them.
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continuous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters because of rampant deforestation. US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it 'the world's largest weapon of mass destruction'
An excavator clearing a peatland forest area for a palm oil plantations in Trumon subdistrict, Aceh province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. As Southeast Asia's largest economy grows rapidly, swathes of biodiverse forests across the archipelago of 17,000 islands have been cleared to make way for paper and palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and agriculture. The destruction has ravaged biodiversity, placing animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers in danger of extinction, while also leading to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide
Stagnant rain water with tannery waste make the Hazaribagh area in Old Dhaka as well as Buriganga River the most polluted. Each year during the seven-month long dry season between October and April the Buriganga River becomes totally stagnant with its upstream region drying up and becoming polluted from toxic waste from city industries
Waste water from Dhaka city drained to the River Buriganga contributes to its pollutions. On the World Water Day observed in 2007 under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity, under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, DrikNEWS explores some of the images of the river. UN-Water has identified coping with water scarcity as part of the strategic issues and priorities requiring joint UN action. The theme highlights the significance of cooperation and importance of an integrated approach to water resource management of water at international, national and local levels
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
The report acknowledges that such a classification would do nothing to save the sea-ice habitat of the species. However, it could prompt other actions that will help reduce the speed and magnitude of the population loss, the report argues.
These include identifying potential refuges – particularly in the Ross Sea, which is situated just below the South Pole and will be the last place impacted by climate change – and improving fishing practices to reduce the number accidentally caught in nets.
Emperor penguins routinely trek between 30 and 80 miles over the ice to catch and deliver krill – small crustaceans – and fish that are critical for their diet.
“Too little ice reduces the habitat for krill,” said Dr Jenouvrier, a biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US. “Too much ice requires longer trips for penguin parents to travel to the ocean to hunt and bring back food for their chicks,” she said. Though she conceded that some colonies may actually benefit from the melting sea ice, Dr Jenouvrier said “this growth will be short-lived”.
The report stems from a 50-year study of the Emperor penguin colony in Terre Adelie, in eastern Antartica, which has seen researchers returning every year to collect biological measurements of the penguins.
The latest study expands on that work by applying its findings to the 45 known colonies, some of which number thousands of penguins.
“Listing the Emperor penguin as an endangered species would reflect the scientific assessment of the threats facing an important part of the Antarctic ecostystem under climate change,” said Hal Caswell, a scientist emeritus at WHOI and professor at the University of Amsterdam. “When a species is at risk due to one factor – in this case, climate change – it can be helped, sometimes greatly, by amelioration of other factors. That’s why the Endangered Species Act is written to protect an endangered species in a number of ways – exploitation, habitat, disturbance – even if those are not the cause of its current predicament,” he added.
WHOI worked on the report with the Centre d’Etudes Bilologiques de Chizé in France, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US, the University of Amsterdam and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in the US.