What future do emperor penguins face?


Emperor penguins establish their colonies on sea ice under extremely specific conditions. Yet, this ice will gradually melt as the climate warms, depriving these birds of their habitat, food sources, and the capacity to raise their young.

To predict what will happen to emperor penguin colonies, a team of scientists led by the Chizé Centre for Biological Studies (CNRS / La Rochelle University)1 applied a combination of climate and population models to three different scenarios:

–    With global warming by 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels (limit set by Paris Agreement), only 5% of the sea ice surrounding Antarctica will melt by 2100, reducing the number of emperor penguin colonies by 19%.
–    Global warming by 2 °C has considerably greater effects; nearly thrice as much ice and over a third of the existing colonies would disappear.
–    Global warming by 5–6 °C (status quo), i.e. if no steps are taken to slow climate change, has even more catastrophic effects: nearly all colonies would be wiped out.

The findings of this study are published in Global Change Biology (7 November 2019).

© Jenouvrier@WHOI/CEBC/IPEV


  • 1. Other participating units and institutions were the mathematics laboratory of the CNRS and Université Savoie Mont Blanc (France); the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands); the University of Minnesota (USA); the University of Canterbury (New Zealand); the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany); the National Center for Atmospheric Research (USA); and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA).

The Paris Agreement objectives will likely halt future declines of emperor penguins. Jenouvrier, S., Iles, D., Labrousse, S., Landrum, L., Garnier, J., Caswell, H., Barbraud, C., Weimerskirch, H., LaRue, M., Ji, R. & Holland, M. Global Change Biology  07 November 2019. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14864


Stéphanie Jenouvrier
CNRS researcher on secondment to WHOI (USA, - 7h)
CNRS Press Office