The consequences of climate change have branched out and touched every inch of our planet—from rising temperatures to melting ice to severe wildfires to deteriorating ecosystems, the effects of climate change have contributed to almost every negative natural phenomena. One of its victims are the melting ice caps in the Arctic; and melting ice caps means the disappearance of shelter, food, and stable land for wildlife. The ice sheets that encompass Antarctica have been experiencing extreme record lows in expansion this past winter season. Continuing in this state could be detrimental for future animal generations.

As these ice caps vanish, the native Emperor penguin has been suffering extreme losses in offspring. According to previous studies, if the current rates of global warming persists, the species of the Emperor penguin will be quasi-extinct by the end of the century. Emperor penguin colonies usually breed between the months of April and the following January, and need substantial sea ice and land to do so. But any manipulation in the sea ice’s composition can lead to younglings not developing waterproof feathers in time, or large enough feathers to fly, called fledgling.

“We have never seen emperor penguins fail to breed, at this scale, in a single season. The loss of sea ice in this region during the Antarctic summer made it very unlikely that displaced chicks would survive,” stated study lead author and Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, Peter Fretwell.

The researchers used satellite imagery between 2018 and 2022 to observe the breeding and behavioral patterns among the penguin colonies in the Bellingshausen Sea. During the breeding season in 2022, compared to the previous years, the images showed broken sheets of ice and no penguin presence. Along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, they also observed that the four out of five younglings failed to fledge. This has been found to be directly related to the loss of sea ice. Upon continuing their research, Fretwell and his colleagues have found that 19 colonies across Antarctica were affected by early sea ice break up in 2022. They are unsure of how many younglings did not survive, but 19 colonies make up about 30% of the total number of colonies. They have also stated that even though the observed ice levels were beyond alarming last year [2022], the dissipating levels the Antarctic is experiencing this year is unpredictably worse.

The team has concluded that Emperor penguins are a resilient species, due to inhabiting a region of harsh winter conditions. Early ice break up is not uncommon and they believe the adults can deal with loss and bounce back. However, the alarming quantity of areas that have lost so much ice at once is a concern. As well as that half of the 18 penguin species are deemed threatened on the IUCN Red List. This study serves as a harsh reminder that immediate action is needed for the survival of this species and others in the area.