Antarctica Penguins to Disappear by 2100: Study

A NASA-funded study by University of Delaware projected that Adelie penguins across Antarctica will disappear by the end of this century owing to melting caused by climate change.


An Adélie penguin cares for its chicks. CREDIT: University of Delaware/Megan Cimino

They said approximately 30 percent of current Adélie colonies may decline by 2060, and approximately 60 percent of the present population might be dwindling by 2099. However, the penguins at more southerly sites in Antarctica may be less affected by climate change, they noted.

“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 Megan Cimino, who earned her doctoral degree at University of Delaware in May and is now a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

The geologic record in the past showed that as glaciers expanded and covered Adélie breeding habitats with ice, penguins abandoned their colonies but returned during the warming periods to their breeding grounds.

The study, funded under the NASA Biodiversity program, used satellite data and global climate model projections to see population trends on a continental scale. They analyzed satellite observations from 1981 to 2010 of sea ice concentration and bare rock locations, as penguins need ice- and snow-free terrain with pebbles for breeding. They also analyzed sea surface temperature data, which, together with bare rock and sea ice, was used to study the quality of penguins’ nesting habitats.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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