Carl Anton Larsen (image thecoldestjourney.org)
Earlier last year a new emperor penguin colony was discovered but it appears they may not actually be that new.
In 1893, the explorer Carl Anton Larsen reported what is thought to have been the first sighting of emperor penguins in the area that is now known after him as the Larsen ice shelves. However, this sighting had never been verified until recent satellite images found a colony on the Larsen C ice shelf. It is thought that these are the same colony and are permanently established on the ice shelf, unlike two other colonies who have recently been reported to be moving onto ice shelves due to changes in the development of their natural habitat, sea ice.
This is especially exciting for me as the Larsen C ice shelf is the one my work is based on. For better or for worse it is much easier for me to put my work into context if I tell people about penguins losing their homes than sea level rise, although one of these may be a much bigger problem for us in the long term.
Headlines today have picked up on a study suggesting that a third of Antarctica’s emperor penguins could be wiped out by 2100.
What’s the problem? A predicted loss of sea ice means a loss of krill, the main food source for emperor penguins. Young krill need sea ice to survive as they eat algae that lives in it.
Tasty tasty krill (image National Geographic).
I thought sea ice was increasing in Antarctica? That may well be the case for now, and the study does suggest that penguin numbers may actually increase for a while, but eventually a decline in sea ice will cause a fall in penguin numbers much steeper than this increase. Can anything be done? The study’s authors suggest that putting in marine protection zones to prevent fishing in areas where penguins need to hunt for food may help, but they don’t expect that penguins will have much ability to adapt to changing conditions, unlike these clever climbing penguins.
Global number of breeding pairs of emperor penguins from 2009 to 2100. After a short spell of increase the population plummets. (Jenouvrier et al. 2014, Nature Climate Change)
You can read the full study here: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2280.html