Scientists use penguins to study climate change in Antarctica

Scientists studying climate change in Antarctica are studying penguins in an effort to better understand the environmental health of the region.

Scientists are measuring the growth and development of the penguin population on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Reuters news agency recently reported on studies in the field carried out by two American researchers.

“We count the penguin nests to understand how many penguins are in a colony, producing (young) each year, and whether that number increases or decreases with environmental conditions,” said Alex Borowicz. He is a researcher in ecology at Stony Brook University in New York.

The job is not easy for climatologists in the icy and remote regions of Antarctica. But penguins are easier to track than some other types of animals because they nest on land. Their black bodies and waste droppings can also be identified against the white background of the area.

Michael Wethington, another Stony Brook researcher, told Reuters that the penguin population may represent overall climatic conditions and the health of the entire region. ecosystem.

The researchers say the number of individual penguins can be combined with data from satellite images to get a more complete picture of the animals’ progress.

Gentoo Penguins – with bright orange beaks and white markings on the head – prefer open water without broken pieces of ice floating around. So when temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula began to rise in the second half of the 20and century, Papuan populations moved south. Some scientists have called this movement the “gentification” of Antarctica.

David Ainley is a biologist with environmental consultancy HT Harvey & Associates. He has been studying penguins for over 50 years. “Gentoo penguins don’t like sea ice,” Ainley told Reuters. “They mostly feed on the continental shelf and don’t go far offshore.

As sea ice has shrunk along the western side of the peninsula, Papuans appear to have become accustomed to the new conditions. But those same conditions were worse for the Adelies penguin. species. Adélies depend on sea ice for food and reproduction.

“When we find Adélie penguins, we usually know sea ice is nearby,” said Wethington of Stony Brook. He added that every time researchers see sea ice shrinking or disappearing, they also see Adélie penguin populations dropping sharply.

Even though Adélie penguins are increasing in numbers overall, some populations have dropped by more than 65%, researchers say.

During their January trip to the region, Stony Brook scientists found that Adelie colonies around the still-icy Weddell Sea had remained strong for the past ten years. “This peninsula may be a safe space as we see climate change progressing and global warming across the world“, said Wethington.

I am Brian Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our facebook page.

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words in this story

nest – nm a house built by birds and other creatures to hold their eggs and live in

ecosystem – nm everything that exists in a particular environment

beak – nm the hard part of a bird’s mouth

feed – v. move around in search of things you need, especially food

species – nm a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants

world – nm the world

Teresa H. Sadler