Abigail MeadowNovember 8th
2019

Climate change is an issue that is gripping the world and sadly it is the animals who seem to be most affected by it, with Emperor penguins the latest to have their existence threatened.

Experts have warned that Emperor penguins could have as little as 80 years left on this planet due to the shrinking of their icy habitats.

Emperor penguins are particulary susceptible to the effects of climate change as they're very specific about exactly where they build their colonies.

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They settle on the shoreline of the Antarctic continent during their 9-month breeding season, but also need to be in close enough proximity to open seawater to be able hunt and catch food for their young chicks.

Sadly, the antarctic sea ice is starting to disappear, leaving the creatures without access to habititat, water or food.

Lead author, Doctor Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), said: "If global climate keeps warming at the current rate, we expect Emperor in Antarctica to experience an 86% decline by the year 2100. At that point, it is very unlikely for them to bounce back."

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The study was conducted by looking at research into two factors. Firstly, projections of where and when sea ice would likely form under different climate scenarios - provided by the a global climate model created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) - and secondly a model which calculated how penguin colonies might react to changes in that ice habitat.

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"We've been developing that penguin model for 10 years," said Dr Jenouvrier. 

"It can give a very detailed account of how sea ice affects the life cycle of emperor penguins, their reproduction, and their mortality.

"When we feed the results of the NCAR climate model into it, we can start to see how different global temperature targets may affect the Emperor penguin population as a whole."

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The researchers compared their model to three different scenarios. The first considered a future in which average global temperatures increased by 1.5°C, which is the official goal set out by the Paris climate agreement.

While the other two scenarios looked at what would happen if there were average rises of 2°C and around 5-6°C.

Under the first scenario, they estimated we'd lose 5% of sea ice by the year 2100, and cause a devastating 19% drop in the number of penguin colonies. Under the second scenario, if the planet warms by 2°C sea ice loss could nearly triple and more than a third of existing Emperor penguin colonies could be set to disappear. And under the third scenario if it warms by 5-6°C, the species will pretty much be extinct.

The full findings are published in the journal Global Change Biology.

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