Thousands of penguin chicks from a colony in Antarctica virtually disappeared overnight three years ago, when a storm destroyed the sea ice they were to be raised on, drowning them, according to a report.
Emperor penguins on the Brunt Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea need patches of sea ice to breed and the ice must stay in place until the young chicks are ready to swim. If it breaks up too early they will drown, which is apparently what happened in 2016, BBC News reported. The disappearance was discovered by a team from the British Antarctic Survey who documented it through satellite imagery.
Strong winds hollowed out the sea ice in 2016, and it never properly reformed, scientists said. The Emperors have shown no sign of trying to breed there again and some have left for other breeding sites in Antarctica. Experts aren't sure why the sea ice hasn’t reformed and there’s no clear sign the cause is climate change. Research shows, however, that disappearing sea ice could lessen the Emperor penguin population by as much as 70 percent by the end of the century, according to the report.
Even if the penguin chicks hadn't been killed by the reduction in sea ice, an iceberg twice the size of New York City set to break off the shelf would likely destroy any of the existing sea ice, BBC reported.
The Antarctic Emperor colony makes up between five and nine percent of the global population