Climate Change Affects Penguins

Robert Resendiz, Photography Editor

Penguin species living in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, global climate change is having significant impacts. In the Atlantic part of the Southern Ocean, ocean warming and the melting of sea-ice are linked to the decline of the penguins’ major food supply, and can nearly end their population by the end of the century, according to National Geographic.

According to NBC News, researchers at the University of Minnesota, using satellite images, said they conducted new studies in just three years in which they discovered native penguins did not return to the same nesting location, they were relocating from their home to find an adaptable environment. They also said a newly discovered colony on the Antarctic Peninsula could prove the results of climate change.

“If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn’t make any sense,” said University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering researcher Michelle LaRue, the study’s lead author in NBC News.

National Geographic reported that scientists found different populations at different sites. Some colonies, like the monitored population near Palmer Station, a United States research lab in northern Antarctica, saw population declines of over 80 percent. Other sites were stable, and some even had growing colonies.

David Ainley, a senior biologist, confirmed that the loss of sea ice may ultimately be a greater threat than warming sea surface temperatures. “The Adélie penguin is a sea ice obligate and only occurs where there is sea ice for a good part of the year…Where sea ice is disappearing in the northern Antarctic peninsula, the Adélie penguin is disappearing.”

NASA reported  that temperature will have the most impact on the penguins. “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,” said the paper’s lead author, Megan Cimino, who is a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

National Geographic also concluded that Antarctic researchers believe that climate change will affect penguins through two primary ways, the quality and accessibility of food and nesting habitats. Warming seas could reduce the quantity of penguins’ prey, resulting in changes of the birds’ diets the magazine reported.

NASA researchers reported that climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be specific based on regional climate trends, and that the population of Adélie penguins is likely to decrease magnificent over the next century.