Emperor Penguins Could Be Extinct In 80 Years Due To Climate Change, Scientists Claim
Scientists have warned that the largest species of penguin could only have as little as 80 years left on this planet due to the rapid shrinking of their icy habitats.
Emperor penguins are at risk in particular as they are so specific about where they build their colonies.
They only settle on the shoreline of the Antarctic continent during their nine month breeding season, but also need to be in close enough proximity to open seawater so that they can reach food for their young.
However, the sea ice is starting to disappear as climate change worsens, leaving the animals without access to habitats, water or a food source.
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 per cent decline by the year 2100.
"At that point, it is very unlikely for them to bounce back."
The study was conducted by looking at research into two factors.
Firstly, projections of where sea ice would likely form and when under different climate scenario, 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.
"We've been developing that penguin model for 10 years," Jenouvrier adds.
"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."
The researchers ran their model against three different scenarios. The first considered a future in which average global temperatures only increased by 1.5°C - which is the official goal set out by the Paris climate accord.
Meanwhile, the other two scenarios looked at what would happen if there were average rises of 2°C and around 5-6°C retrospectively.
The research found that under the first scenario, we'd still lose five per cent of sea ice by the year 2100, and cause a devastating 19 per cent drop in the number of penguin colonies.
But worse still, of 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 if it warms by 5-6°C? Their extinction is pretty much guaranteed.
Worryingly, the latter is the predicted temperature increase if we don't take any action to stop climate change.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Global Change Biology.
We need to wake up to just how bad things are getting before it's too late.
Featured Image Credit: PA