The emperor penguin, which roams Antarctica's frozen tundra and chilly seas, is at severe risk of extinction in the next 30 to 40 years as a result of climate change, an expert from the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) warned.
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The emperor, the world's largest penguin and one of only two penguin species endemic to Antarctica, gives birth during the Antarctic winter and requires solid sea ice from April through December to nest fledgling chicks.
If the sea freezes later or melts prematurely, the emperor family cannot complete its reproductive cycle.
"If the water reaches the newborn penguins, which are not ready to swim and do not have waterproof plumage, they die of the cold and drown," said biologist Marcela Libertelli, who has studied 15,000 penguins across two colonies in Antarctica at the IAA.
This has happened at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea, the second-largest emperor penguin colony, where for three years all the chicks died.
Every August, in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter, Libertelli and other scientists at Argentina's Marambio Base in Antarctica travel 65km each day by motor bike in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius (-40°F) to reach the nearest emperor penguin colony.
Once there, they count, weigh, and measure the chicks, gather geographical coordinates, and take blood samples. They also conduct aerial analysis.