Ecologists have warned that Adelie penguins in Antarctica face extinction within five to ten years, because of the rapid warming of the region due to climate change.
"That region has experienced the most rapid warming during winter on the planet," said Bill Fraser, an ecologist with the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Montana.
"The mid-winter temperatures are now around 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) higher than they were 50 years ago," he added.
According to a report in the National Geographic News, if this trend continues, Adélie penguins will be locally extinct within five to ten years.
Fraser, who has been studying Antarctic penguins since 1974, has seen the Adélie population in the western Antarctic Peninsula shrink by 80 percent. In fact, there are only 8,000 birds left today from an original colony size of 40,000.
This is evidence enough of the impact that global warming has had on these penguins.
"They are the classic canaries in the coal mine, in that they are responding to changes that are occurring on an enormous scale," said Fraser. "These are global scale changes; it's just not the Antarctic Peninsula that's warming," he added.
Ecologists say that the peninsula's rapid warming must be tied to factors unique to the region.
"The peninsula is undergoing warming that in the wintertime is almost 5.5 times the global average," said Doug Martinson, a physical oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.
"There's got to be some other source of heat that's melting the glaciers and raising the air temperature, and the most obvious source is the ocean," he added.
"The deep-ocean circulation is bringing water to our area of the Antarctic Peninsula that—just a little ways below the water's surface—is four degrees Celsius (seven degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than freezing," the journal quoted Martinson as saying.