Study: Antarctica's Emperor Penguins Risk 'Quasi-Extinction'

    Study: Antarctica's Emperor Penguins Risk 'Quasi-Extinction'
    Last updated Aug 25, 2023
    Image credit: Unsplash


    • According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment on Thursday, no emperor penguins survived in four out of five breeding colonies in the Bellingshausen Sea, west of the Antarctic Peninsula, in 2022.
    • Researchers used satellite imagery to suggest that with no ice left across several colonies in December — when emperor penguins hatch their eggs and raise their chicks — all but one experienced total breeding collapse.
    • According to lead author Peter Fretwell, an analysis of satellite images of the remainder of the continent's 66 known emperor penguin colonies shows around 30%, or 19, were harmed by low sea ice levels last year.
    • It's believed that an estimated 10K young emperor penguins either drowned or froze to death in frigid waters.
    • The study warns that emperor penguins' first recorded incident of "catastrophic breeding failure" shows that if global warming rates persist, "over 90% of emperor colonies will be quasi-extinct by the end of this century."
    • Antarctica's sea ice levels fell to unprecedented lows this past February. Climatologists are attempting to unravel the reasons why, with climate change being among the identified factors.


    Narrative A

    As the Antarctic continent's seasonal sea ice withers in an ever-warming world, it's a sign of things to come. Emperor penguins usually find alternative sites in response to unstable sea ice, but the accelerating impact of global warming in Antarctica threatens to outpace the capacity of these iconic animals to adapt. If we don't cut our carbon emissions, we will completely wipe out emperor penguins by 2100 in an evolving global crisis.

    Narrative B

    It's unfair to blame fossil fuels for warming the planet and the loss of catastrophic sea ice in the Antarctic when natural fluctuations in the Earth's climate cycle usually cause ice-related conditions to shift over time and influence sea ice. As it's common for a colony of emperor penguins to experience the occasional lousy breeding season, natural planetary factors must also be considered to understand the changes in the continent and their implications for the penguins.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 50% chance that the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf will collapse by January 2027, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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