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Why are there hundreds of ancient, mummified penguins in Antarctica?

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Hundreds of mummified penguins found in Antarctica

Experts have discovered hundreds of mummified Adelie penguins dating back as far as 750 years ago. They believe that their death was caused by a two-year-long extreme climatic’ anomaly.

Hundreds of mummified penguins in Antarctica are found — a sign that the penguins died as a result of two extreme warming events of the past 1000 years, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, detail that an extraordinary snow and an extreme rainy event caused greater-than-normal levels of precipitation, which eventually led to the penguins’ demise.

“On the basis of chronological and sedimentary evidence, we propose that the two events were caused by heavy regional precipitation, which led to the abandonment of many of penguin sub‐colonies,” the study abstract reads. “The abnormal rainfall was probably connected with the intensification of the regional meridional air transport in the context of a zonal wave number 3 pattern.”

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The abstract adds that since these types of “atmospheric conditions correspond to the current observations, and are expected to continue as climate change continues, the mortality events revealed in this study could be an increasing threat for the penguins.”

Adelie penguins are native to Antarctica and there are approximately 4.7 million of them at this time, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which they are under the heading “least concern” of the risk for extinction.

Speaking with LiveScience, the study’s lead author Liguang Sun, said it is “very likely that global climate warming caused enhanced rainfall,” adding that the mass penguin tomb is rare to find, “especially the mummified chicks.”

The penguins were found in the East of Antarctica’s Long Peninsula in 2016.

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The study noted that the penguins died in two different time periods, over several decades, dating back to around 750 and 200 years ago. The radiocarbon dating was used to indicate that the “two multi‐decadal mass mortality events,” the abstract said.

The researchers looked at the sediment around the mummies, as well as nesting materials and droppings, LiveScience added. They also looked at the evidence of floods, the increase of precipitation, which makes the organs of the mummified penguins to be carried away from their original locations.

Sun added that we can see, more events such as this occur in the future, as climate change is expected to worsen.

“In general, it is assumed that the current warming trend will continue or even get worse,” Sun said. He added that this would lead to more precipitation in Antarctica, which probably would increase the chance of such a massive death” between the penguins.

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According to NASA, the temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees celsius since 1880, sea levels rose 3.2 millimeters per year and the amount of ice in the Arctic has shrunk by 13.2 percent per decade.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

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