Public Release: 

Adélie penguin population in Antarctica threatened by climate change

One-third of current colonies may be in be decline by 2060, 60 percent by 2099

NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Climate change in Antarctica, cooling in some places and warming in others, is causing a dramatic shift in the population of Adélie penguins, according to a paper published online June 29 in Scientific Reports.

Historic satellite observations and future climate model projections were used to estimate past and future changes in habitat suitability during the penguins' chick-rearing period. Researchers from the University of Delaware, Stony Brook University, and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service found that recent climate warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula corresponded to population declines, while stable or cooling conditions in other parts of the continent corresponded to stable or increasing populations.

Vincent Saba of NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who works at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, says the climate change impacts will be highly site specific based on regional climate trends on Antarctica. A continued southward contraction of the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century. Saba helped analyze the global climate model output and applied the climate change projections to the penguin presence-absence models.

Over time, Adélie penguins were once positively affected by warming and negatively affected by cooling. Researchers found that further warming is no longer beneficial at some locations on Antarctica, although some cooler regions could serve as a refuge and buffer the effects for a while. Continued warming is expected to lead to population declines at approximately 30 percent of colonies by 2060 and 60 percent of colonies by 2099.

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