At Risk: Penguins in Antarctica

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Antarctica penguins

Photo by Eli Duke

Antarctica’s landscape is changing and there’s no denying it. Most recently, a study by a Texas A&M University researcher, the melting rates of glaciers in Antarctica are accelerating due to global warming.

Alejandro Orsi, associate professor of oceanography, and his colleagues from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, “examined the entry to one of three cross-shelf passages in the Amundsen Sea that allow warm oceanic water to reach beneath the ice shelves in front of the Thwaites and Pine Island Glaciers, which show the fastest thinning.” Their findings were far from ideal: They found a year-long persistent inflow of warm bottom water along this trough.

“The first reaction was to look for direct atmospheric anomalies in Antarctica, since air temperature would be easiest to be blamed, but we found that is not necessarily the case here,” Orsi explains in a press release. “These changes are being driven mainly by the ocean, which in turn interacts with the atmosphere in complex ways.”

The melting glaciers are, in turn, causing sea levels to rise. In fact, new research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has found that the global rise in sea level is happening 60% faster than the projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Results show that global temperature continues to increase in very good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC,” the authors of the new study write. “The rate of sea level rise of the past decades, on the other hand, is greater than projected by the IPCC models. This suggests that IPCC sea level projections for the future may also be biased low.”

The study’s lead author, Sefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam (Germany) Institute for Climate Impact Research shares:

It contrast to the physics of global warming itself, sea level rise is much more complex. To improve future projections it is very important to keep track of how well past projections match observational data. The new findings highlight that the IPCC is far from being alarmist, and in fact in some cases rather underestimates possible risks.

Wondering how different the two projections are? The IPCC projected that sea level rise is happening at the rate of 2mm per year, whereas the new research estimates that sea levels are rising at an average rate of 3.2mm a year. What’s more, these findings don’t even account for the ice flowing into the sea from Greenland and Antarctica.

And now, according to a report by NBC News’ Kerry Sanders, if the warming of the Antarctic continues, at least half of the world’s 18 penguin species will reap the consequences due to a shortage of krill—the main food consumed by penguins.

“When you look at all penguins they are largely in trouble,” said Oxford University penguinologist Tom Hart, to NBC. “We’re so concerned because we’re seeing massive changes to their populations. They’re probably not going to go extinct anytime soon, but the environment is changing very fast.”

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Susmita is a freelance writer and editor in the Greater New York City area with her own blog on natural beauty (Cherry Stained Lips). In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.