Emperor penguins, with their majestic black and white bodies as well as their stately demeanor make them one of the most impressive animals in the animal kingdom.
A new study warns that birds could be on the verge of extinction. If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the same level as today, 98% of colonies will die by 2100.
Previous studies have linked carbon emissions to an increase in extreme weather events such as glacial melting and sea ice loss at the Antarctic, where Emperor penguins are found.
Currently, there are approximately 270,000-280,000 breeding pairs of Emperor penguins. This is 625,000-650,000 individuals.
This means that by 2100, there may be only 13,000 birds remaining.
The study was led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts. Following the findings, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal for the Endangered Species Act listing of the species.
What causes penguins to be affected by greenhouse gas emissions?
Emperor penguins breed exclusively in Antarctica during winter.
They can withstand temperatures as low as -80°F (-62°C) and winds speeds of up to 90mph (144kph). This is because they are huddled together in groups of many thousand birds.
However, birds cannot survive without enough sea ice.
Ms Jenouvrier stated that Emperor penguins are in delicate balance with their environment. There is a ‘Goldilocks zone’ of sea ice where they can live.
“Chickens can drown if there’s not enough sea ice; if there’s too much, foraging trips may become more difficult and longer, and they might starve.
Stephanie Jenouvrier, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution penguin ecologist, stated that Emperor penguins live a long life and require stable sea ice.
The study involved the analysis of the projected dynamics for all known colonies of emperor penguins under various greenhouse gas emission scenarios. This was done using a climate dependent meta-population model.
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If current climate change and carbon emissions continue at their current levels, 98% of Emperor penguin colonies could be on the verge of extinction by 2100. Global temperatures are expected to rise by 4 degrees Celsius.
According to research, 70% of colonies could be in danger by 2050. The study examined global warming trends and increased likelihood of extreme weather events due to global warming.
It also noted that the 2016 extremely low sea ice levels caused a huge breeding failure in Antarctica’s Halley Bay.