Climate Change: 70% of King Penguins Could ‘Abruptly Relocate or Disappear’ by 2100
By Daisy Dunne
The arduous journey that king penguins must make in order to hunt fish to bring back to their young could become even longer as the climate warms, research suggests.
However, if these animals cannot find anywhere suitable to move to, they could be at risk of "disappearing" by the end of the century, the authors added.
King penguins are well attuned to life in harsh Antarctic conditions. Breeding pairs raise their chicks on sub-Antarctic islands, including the Falklands and the Crozet Islands. In these spots, temperatures stay above freezing and predators, such as leopard seals, are kept at bay.
However, to find food for their chicks, adult penguins must venture to an ocean boundary known as the Antarctic Polar Front, where cold Antarctic waters meet and sink beneath warmer waters from mid-latitude regions. In these less frigid waters, a number of Antarctic fish species gather in large numbers.
A typical journey to this ocean boundary, which is currently situated in between the penguins' most northern and southern breeding islands, takes seven to ten days and stretches over 300 to 500 kilometers (approximately 186 to 311 miles).
However, future ocean warming could drive the Antarctic Polar Front to move polewards—further away from penguin breeding sites, according to Dr. Robin Cristofari from the University of Turku, Finland, Dr. Celine Le Bohec from the National Scientific Research Centre in France and Dr. Emiliano Trucchi from the University of Ferrara, Italy, who jointly led the study published in Nature Climate Change.
If climate change continues unabated, the journey to find food could become impossible from some breeding islands, they told Carbon Brief in a joint interview:
For the study, the researchers used a set of global climate models to simulate changes to future sea temperatures and, therefore, the potential foraging distance from each penguin breeding island.
The models used three different future scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from a scenario where global warming is limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels (RCP2.6) to a "business as usual" scenario where future climate change continues to rise unchecked (RCP8.5).
Based on their research, the scientists determined that 700 kilometers (approximately 435 miles) was the maximum distance that penguins could travel to hunt fish.
The maps below show the location of the penguins' breeding islands (numbered) and the foraging area (dashed red line) during 1981-2005 (left) and under a future high emissions scenario in 2100 (right). The shaded blue areas show the extent of Antarctic sea ice.
For each island, orange shows the presence of a breeding colony; grey indicates that the island is too far away from a foraging site; white shows that the island that has never been occupied by penguins and blue shows that the island is covered in ice and, therefore, too cold for penguins to establish a breeding colony.
The islands on the charts are: (1) Tierra del Fuego, (2) Falklands, (3) South Georgia, (4) South Sandwich, (5) Gough, (6) Bouvet, (7) Marion and Prince Edward, (8) Crozet, (9) Kerguelen, (10) Heard and McDonald, (11) Amsterdam, (12) Macquarie, (13) Auckland, (14) Campbell and (15) Chatham.
The location of the penguins' breeding islands (numbered and colored; see text above) and foraging area (dashed-red line) in a historical period from 1981-2005 to a future high emissions scenario in 2100. Shaded blue shows the extent of Antarctic sea ice. Cristofari et al. (2018)
The right-hand map shows that the foraging area is expected to move out of reach of some islands by 2100, including Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands, Marion and Prince Edward and Crozet.
Together, these islands are home to roughly 70 percent of the total breeding population of king penguins, the research finds.
However, some southern islands are expected to become closer to the foraging boundary as it moves polewards. These include South Sandwich and Bouvet.
Changes in foraging distance on each island are shown in more detail on the charts below, which highlight results for the low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; green), the intermediate emissions scenario (RCP4.5; orange) and the high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red).
On the charts, the red-dashed line shows the upper limit for foraging distance, beyond which penguins cannot successfully rear their chicks.
Under the high emissions scenario, 49 percent of the total population are expected to lose their breeding grounds completely by 2100, while a further 21 percent could "see their habitat strongly altered," the researchers said.
The results also show that, even under low and intermediate scenarios, the Crozet and Falkland Islands are likely to become unworkable breeding grounds.
"The largest colonies on Crozet will still be in trouble under RCP4.5 and RCP2.6, which corresponds to around 1m breeding pairs," the researchers said.
The results show that a large proportion of king penguins could be forced to leave their breeding islands as the climate warms. However, it is not yet clear whether these animals will be able to successfully relocate to more southerly islands, which could become closer to the foraging grounds.
"King penguins move a lot among islands and, if a new suitable island becomes available, they will likely colonize it. The problem is that the new islands have to become available before the old one is not suitable anymore," the researchers said.
Although the southern islands are expected to become closer to the Arctic Polar Front, the islands may be covered by sea ice and, therefore, be too cold for penguins to rear their chicks successfully.
"Southern islands may be still too cold for the king penguin to breed when northern islands get too far from the food," the researchers said.
If no suitable breeding spots emerge in time, a large proportion of king penguins could "disappear" by the end of the century, the researchers said. In their paper, they conclude:
"Under the 'business-as-usual RCP8.5 scenario, 70% of the present-day 1.6m king penguin breeding pairs are expected to abruptly relocate or disappear before the end of the century."
Cutting Global Emissions
The new study provides an "interesting and well executed" first look at how climate change could threaten king penguins, said Dr. Norman Ratcliffe, a seabird ecologist from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who was not involved in the research. He told Carbon Brief:
"It's quite a crude habitat model, I'm sure there's a lot more to it—what king penguins need from life—than these two variables [breeding spaces and foraging distance]."
The research shows that some breeding colonies could be protected if the world were to limit the amount of future climate change, he added:
"It's a matter of cutting global emissions. There's not very much compensatory habitat management you could do—you can't create islands in the ocean."
World's Rarest Penguin Population at Its Lowest in 27 Years https://t.co/zm13JHebRC @wwf_uk @environmentca— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1511822409.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
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The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
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The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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