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Penguins Getting Hot

Penguins are starting to leave parts of Antarctica because it?s getting too hot for them.The numbers of adelie penguins on the Antarctic peninsula are falling as global warming increases. Experts predict that they may abandon much of their tradition living areas permanently.

Despite evidence that parts of Antarctica have been cooling, the 900-mile-long peninsula where the penguins live has been warming up faster than almost anywhere else on earth, with temperatures increasing at 5 times faster than the world average.

Also, two giant icebergs have broken off the Antarctic ice sheet and are blocking the route from their breeding colonies to their feeding areas. As a result they have to walk 30 miles further to get food, which is hard when you can only walk one mile per hour. On the other side of the continent, thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned after the ice broke up early, before they had learned to swim. Only one species, the chinstrap penguin, seems to be thriving in the warmer weather.

Studies of air temperatures around the world over the past half-century suggest that Antarctica is one of the three areas on the planet ? along with northwest North America and part of Siberia ? that are warming up fastest. The British Antarctic Survey says flowering plants have spread rapidly in the area, glaciers are retreating, and seven huge ice sheets have melted away.

Scientists suspect that the rising temperatures affect the small fish and other marine animals on which penguins feed. Professor Steven Emslie, of the University of North Carolina, believes that if the warming continues the penguins ?would continue to decline in the peninsula, and may completely abandon much of it.? He has carried out studies of fossilized remains near Britain?s Rothera Antarctic base that show that the numbers of the penguins have sharply declined during warmer periods in prehistory.

On at least one occasion, the penguin decline in the Antarctic peninsula caused a rapid increase in penguins in the Ross Sea more than 2,000 miles away. But now the Ross area is warming up as well. Researchers for the U.S. National Science Foundation say that one colony of adelies at Cape Royds will ?fail totally? this year. Scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography say that a colony of emperor penguins at Cape Crozier has failed to raise any chicks.

According to a statement from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, ?Things happening to penguins are a foretaste of things to come.?

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