"Emperor penguins live in a delicate balance with their environment, there is a sea ice 'Goldilocks' zone," said study author Stephanie Jenouvrier, seabird ecologist and associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in a statement. "If there is too little sea ice, chicks can drown when sea ice breaks up early; if there is too much sea ice, foraging trips become too long and more arduous, and the chicks may starve."
The chicks must shed their down before growing the waterproof feathers they use to swim — but if they are still covered in down when the ice breaks, they'll sink.
As top predators, emperor penguins serve as sentinel species, meaning they are ideal species to study in a fluctuating ecosystem because they can reveal if something is wrong. By studying these birds, Zitterbart and his team can learn about the impacts of the climate crisis in Antarctica.
See also: "Re-envisioning Environment". It's an 8-minute read on Medium. Medium lets you read a certain number of stories for free every month. You may also consider a paid membership on the platform.