The Age Of Warming

<i>60 Minutes</i> Goes To The Bottom Of The World And To The Top of A Glacier To See The Fastest Warming Place On Earth

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American biologists Sue and Wayne Trivelpiece were the first to find trouble in Paradise Cove. Wayne Trivelpiece says, over the years, the population of Chinstrap penguins has changed by about 60 percent.

The Trivelpieces live in a tiny American outpost, where they've studies penguins for more than 30 years with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"I'm curious about the evolution. How long have there been penguins?" Pelley asks.

"Oh, millions of years 30, 40 million years," Sue Trivelpiece says. "There have been six-foot penguin fossils found … and with ten-inch bills and I really don't think I would want to band one of those guys."

Banding modern penguins led to their discovery. It starts with a roundup: they've squeezed ID bands on 70,000 penguins to see if they survive their migration.

Penguins migrate up to 5,000 miles in the coldest water on earth. And if you think penguins don't "fly" you've never seen them underwater, where they can hit 25 miles an hour.

But, after millions of years of endurance, many Chinstrap and Adelie penguins aren't surviving anymore.

"We knew something was drastically wrong. Something had changed in the ocean," Wayne Trivelpiece tells Pelley.

What do they think was happening?

"We didn't really know. We knew it had to be something that was going on once they left land and went out to sea," Sue Trivelpiece explains.

"We love working with the Chinstraps. They are far and away the most cooperative," says Sue's husband Wayne.

"But you know what, Wayne, I'm not sure they like working with you," Pelley remarks.

Getting manhandled may ruffle their feathers, but it was key to discovering their fate.

There were some grown penguin chicks, chasing their mothers for food which she delivers beak to beak. Soon, the chicks will go to sea to hunt a shrimp-like crustacean called "krill."

Krill grow beneath the sea ice, but in the warming ocean, the sea ice is melting away.

"So the penguins have been going to sea and starving to death?" Pelley asks.

"The chicks are declining and we think they just can't find the krill," Sue Trivelpiece says.

"When you can link a change in warming in air temperature to ice to krill to penguins and show a 50 percent reduction in the penguin population here and connect all the dots you really can't make it any clearer than that," her husband adds.

If it's clear the south is warming, Paul Mayewski is also in the region to find out why. He is among the most accomplished Antarctic scientists. He's director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and he has been exploring Antarctica since 1968. They've even named a mountain after him here.

Asked what some of the big questions are that he is trying to answer, Mayewski tells Pelley, "We'd of course like to be able to demonstrate that over the last few thousand years this temperature change truly is different."

Is warming caused by man's pollution in the atmosphere? Mayewski says the answer is under our feet. With the help of scientists from Poland's Arctowski Research Station, 60 Minutes set out to climb to the top of a glacier that was fractured by deep crevasses covered in snow.

Mayewski trekked thousands of miles to discover what the climate was like before humans walked the earth. He's found evidence all over the Antarctic continent.

Antarctica is one and a half times the size of the United States. It is covered in ice that averages a mile in thickness.

"If you want to learn about the climate you've got to get here and you've got to experience the place," Mayewski tells Pelley.