Nightly News   |  March 11, 2013

Journey to the bottom of the Earth

As the Antarctic ice begins to disappear, penguins are at risk: in some areas one species has declined by a stunning 90 percent. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports from Antarctica.

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>>> we have a status report tonight on climate change and how visible it is in one of the most stunning places on the globe. if you have the b chance in life to journey to the bottom of the earth to ant a a -- antarctica you will see it in dramatic fashion. kerry sanders is back from there and has our report tonight.

>> reporter: it is the waning days of summer and there is a race on. penguins are hatching. parents nursing the their chicks before the first swim in the southern ocean . often their last because of what lurks below.

>> the leopard seal is a number one penguin killer.

>> reporter: it's part of the balance of life here. leopard seals eat up to 25 penguins a day. some say there are only two types. the white ones walking toward you and the black ones walking away . but there are 18 different types of penguins. more than half have reason to worry.

>> look at that.

>> reporter: in the last 50 years average winter temperatures have risen 10.7 degrees. the national snow and ice center measured the lowest average ice cover. ice is the foundation of life. see the watermelon and green color? that's algae under the icebergs and the frozing ocean that feeds krill and they are the main source of food for penguins, seals and whales. less ice resulted in 80% fewer krill. why is it all happening? manmade global climate change , say an overwhelming number of scientists like fabrice fabrice genevois.

>> you have to be crazy or see we are doing actually something on climate change . we are responsible of the climate change today. that's for sure.

>> reporter: the remote and harsh nature of antarctica makes penguin counts inexact. scientists use time lapse cameras to count populations. in some spots the colonies of penguins known as adeli have dropped by a stunning 90%.

>> we should not kid ourselves in thinking that will not have consequences. we don't necessarily need severe change, but it will change the world as we know it.

>> reporter: like a canary in the coal mine experts say the penguins are giving us a warning. kerry sanders , nbc news, antarctica .