Scientists report they have discovered perfectly preserved, 800-year-old penguin remains exposed by a patch of melting ice along the Antarctic coast. The news media and climate activists are touting this as proof of an unprecedented climate crisis. In reality, the discovery reveals that temperatures in the not-too-distant past were as warm or warmer than present temperatures.

Reporting in the peer-reviewed journal Geology, scientists encountered what appeared to be the fresh remains of Adelie penguins in a region where penguins are not known to live. Carbon dating showed the penguin remains were approximately 800 years old, implying the remains had very recently been exposed by thawing ice. Further examination and testing of the site showed that penguins had colonized and abandoned the site multiple times between 800 and 5,000 years ago.

The scientists noted that the most recent period of penguin colonization began at the beginning of the Medieval Warm Period (approximately 900 A.D.) and ended at the beginning of the Little Ice Age (approximately 1200 A.D.). The scientists noted that penguins currently cannot live in the region because “fast ice” (ice that extends from the Antarctic shore many miles out into the ocean) prevents penguins from accessing the ocean from shore. During the warmth of the Medieval Warm Period, the absence of fast ice allowed penguins to colonize the area.

Further analysis of the site showed penguins were able to live and breed in the region during most of the past 5,000 years. The scientists described the period of greatest colonization as the “Penguin Optimum,” lasting from 2,000 B.C. to the time of Christ. Presumably, it was too warm for fast ice to extend from the Antarctic coast during these periods of penguin colonization.

The news media are proclaiming the newly discovered penguin remains as proof of a climate crisis. The claim is that Antarctic temperatures are warmer than they have been at any point in the past 800 years. See, for example, the UK Independent article titled “Climate crisis: 5,000-year-old penguin graveyard revealed by retreating Antarctic ice.” While that may be so, the more important revelation is that Antarctic temperatures have been warmer than today – warm enough to support large penguin colonies that depend on access to the open sea – for most of the 5,000 years. In other words, human civilization developed and thrived during temperatures that were warmer than today. For most of the past 5,000 years, humans and nature grew accustomed to – and thrived during – temperatures that were warmer than today.

Far from proof of a climate crisis, the new penguin discovery is proof of a return to climate normalcy.

[Photo of Adelie penguins courtesy of Brocken Inaglory and Wikimedia Commons.]

James Taylor is the President of the Heartland Institute. Taylor is also director of Heartland's Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy. Taylor is the former managing editor (2001-2014) of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly publication devoted to sound science and free-market environmentalism.



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