Em­peror pen­guins march­ing to­wards ex­tinc­tion

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Front Page - ■ let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

BOS­TON: A warm­ing cli­mate may cause em­peror pen­guins to go ex­tinct by the end of this cen­tury, ac­cord­ing to a study that cau­tions a “busi­ness as usual” ap­proach to­wards cli­mate change could en­sure the com­plete loss of the birds na­tive to the Antarc­tic.

An in­ter­na­tional team of re­searchers, in­clud­ing those from Woods Hole Oceano­graphic In­sti­tu­tion (WHOI) in the US, said that the em­peror pen­guins — the tallest and heav­i­est of all species of pen­guins — are highly de­pen­dent on the fate of sea ice, which they use as a home base for breed­ing and molt­ing.

The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy, noted that if the Earth con­tin­ues to heat up at the cur­rent rate, melt­ing sea ice in Antarc­tica, the em­peror pen­guins may ex­pe­ri­ence an 86% de­cline by the year 2100 — a point af­ter which they are un­likely to bounce back to a health­ier pop­u­la­tion.

As part of the study, the re­searchers com­bined two ex­ist­ing com­puter mod­els. The first was a global cli­mate model cre­ated by the Na­tional Cen­ter for At­mo­spheric

Re­search (NCAR) in the US, which of­fered pro­jec­tions of where and when sea ice would form un­der dif­fer­ent cli­mate sce­nar­ios. The sec­ond was a model of the pen­guin pop­u­la­tion, which cal­cu­lated how colonies might re­act to changes in that ice habi­tat, they said.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, the pen­guins build their colonies on ice with ex­tremely spe­cific con­di­tions, re­quir­ing that it is locked in to the shore­line of the Antarc­tic con­ti­nent. The ice should also be close enough to open sea­wa­ter to give the birds ac­cess to food

for them­selves and their young, the re­searchers said.

With a warm­ing cli­mate this kind of sea ice will grad­u­ally dis­ap­pear, rob­bing the birds of their habi­tat, food sources, and abil­ity to hatch chicks, the study said.

The pen­guin model has been in the works for more than a decade, the re­searchers said. “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,” said study co-au­thor Stephanie Je­nou­vrier, a seabird ecol­o­gist from WHOI.

The re­searchers ran the model on three dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios, the study noted. One was a fu­ture where global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture in­creases by only 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius -- the goal set out by the Paris cli­mate ac­cord -- and another where tem­per­a­tures in­crease by 2 de­grees Cel­sius. The third sim­u­la­tion, the study said, pre­dicted what might hap­pen un­der a ca­sual ‘busi­ness-asusual’ ap­proach in which no ac­tion is taken to re­duce cli­mate change -- caus­ing a tem­per­a­ture in­crease of 5 to 6 de­grees Cel­sius.

Only 5% of sea ice would be lost by 2100 un­der the 1.5 de­grees sce­nario, caus­ing the num­ber of pen­guin colonies to drop by a fifth of its present day num­bers, ac­cord­ing to the study.

If the planet warms by 2 de­grees, the re­searchers cau­tioned, the loss of sea ice could nearly triple, and more than a third of ex­ist­ing colonies may dis­ap­pear. Je­nou­vrier said that the ‘busi­ness as usual’ sce­nario was even more dire, with an al­most com­plete loss of the colonies en­sured.

Em­peror pen­guin pop­u­la­tion ■ may de­cline 86% by 2100.

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