Antarctica: Thousands of penguin chicks have died of starvation because of too extensive pack ice

According to CNRS (France) researchers, the unusual extent of the pack ice, due to the melting of glaciers, has forced adult penguins to go farther to fetch their food.

Since 2010, CNRS researchers are studying a colony of 18,000 pairs of Adélie penguins in eastern Antarctica. They found that only two chicks survived after the last breeding season between late 2016 and early 2017. This disaster is due to the particularly large (and unusual) extent of pack ice at the end of the summer. Adults were forced to go further to look for food for starving chicks.

Four years ago, the same colony, which had 20,196 pairs, had produced no chicks. The hecatomb was caused by a very large expanse of sea ice, by the rain which had soaked chicks with plumage not yet impermeable, and by a rapid decline in temperature. According to Yan Ropert-Coudert, a researcher at the Dumont-d’Urville research station near the colony, the region has suffered the consequences of environmental changes related to the break-up of the Mertz glacier.

The melting of the Mertz glacier

“The conditions are ripe for this to happen more frequently because of the breakdown of the Mertz glacier in 2010, which changed the configuration of the sea in front of the colony,” he told AFP. But “other factors have to be combined to have a year zero,” he added, listing temperature levels, wind direction, and strength, the absence of polyny, ice.

Great swimmers, penguins were doing well in eastern Antarctica. But on the white continent in general, they are threatened by climate change. Melting glaciers and drifting ice affect their habitat. The small ones are adapted to the snow but not to rain and the warming of the water has an influence on the abundance of their food.


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