Penguin PopulationClimate change is undeniable, but understanding its effects—particularly several years down the road—is much more difficult. As such, then, we continue to learn more and more about our planetary concerns over the next few years. And, according to a paper published in the June 29th edition of Scientific Reports, roughly 30 percent of the current Adélie penguin colonies may be in decline by 2060, reaching a declination rate of nearly 60 percent by 2099.

Lead study author and University of Delaware doctoral graduate Megan Cimino reports, “It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species.”

The Adélie penguin species breeds across the whole of the continent of Antarctica . Unfortunately, data shows that the species population has been in decline along the West Antarctic Peninsula—one of the most rapidly warming place on the planet—while the same species populations remain steady or are increasing in other areas of the continent where the climate is stable or cooling.

Of course, this most recent study was intended to better understand how climate change effects existing [and future] Antarctic Adélie penguin colonies. Fortunately, the new study builds on existing work, already published by the same team which investigated the more broad shifting of Antarctica’s ecosystem through the tracking of penguins and their habitats.

Now a Scripps Institute of Oceanography postdoctoral scholar, Cimino goes on to say, “Our study used massive amounts of data to run habitat suitability models. From other studies that used actual ground counts—people going and physically counting penguins—and from high resolution satellite imagery, we have global estimates of Adélie penguin breeding locations, meaning where they are present and where they are absent, throughout the entire Southern Ocean. We also have estimates of population size and how their populations have changed over last few decades.”

This research has been funded by the NASA Biodiversity program, which uses satellite observations from 1981 to 2010 to track changes in sea surface temperature, bare rock locations, sea ice, and presence-absence data of various penguin population estimates.

Finally, Cimino concludes, “Studies like this are important because they focus our attention on areas where a species is most vulnerable to change. The results can be used for management; they can have implications for other species that live in the area and for other ecosystem processes.”