A CBS News article has highlighted the research work of Stony Brook scientists in Antarctica, Global warming cited as Antarctica’s chinstrap penguin population drops by half, which details live coverage by a CBS News team sent to the region to see how climate change is threatening penguins.
The Stony Brook University scientists are on Elephant Island in Antarctica to count a chinstrap penguin colony to determine if the population is dwindling there, as it is elsewhere in the area. Average temperatures in Antarctica have risen by more than five degrees over 50 years, which is about five times the global average.
The team of scientists works with Stony Brook University Ecology and Evolution Professor Heather Lynch, who received the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists in 2019 for her research as a quantitative ecologist monitoring Antarctic penguin population. Her work has provided key data on the health of the Southern Ocean ecosystem.
According to the team’s report, the nearly 3 degrees Celsius of global warming over the last 50 years caused a reduction of sea ice, which in turn results in a reduction of krill that eat the algae and other organisms that live underneath in the sea ice. As the krill population declines so do that of the chinstrap penguin since krill is their favourite food.
“When we see climate change impacting things down here, glacial melt, warming oceans, more acidic oceans,” says Borowicz. “Penguins do interact with all of those things.” So do krill, the chinstraps’ favourite food. The tiny creatures also depend on sea ice to survive. “Sea ice is really what brings all of the ocean life here together,” He added. If there is less sea ice, there’s less krill, which means less food for the chinstrap penguins.
Over the years, however, the researchers have seen an increase in the region in populations of gentoo penguins, which have a more diverse diet. According to Borowicz, they are moving in, expanding their range. They are heading ever further southward every year as the sea ice recedes.
The researcher compiling the data on a computer said that they had lost already 50 percent since the early twenties. That fits the pattern the team is observing on the island so far: a decline of around 150,000 chinstraps since the last major survey 50 years ago. Another sign, the researchers say, that this penguin population is collapsing across the region.
“It’s very dramatic to have a wildlife population drop by 50 percent in an unexploited wildlife population. They’re not hunted,” says activist and researcher Steve Forrest. “I think climate change is driving almost all of the processes down here now in a way they’ve never experienced before.”