The forcing of carbon emissions has led to sensitivity of temperature change; as carbon emissions increase, temperature changes in response, increasing in a mirrored pattern (Brook 2008, Gustavsson et al. 2017, USGCRP 2017).  Possible future scenarios are dependent upon what humans, as the leading cause of excessive carbon emission, do in the present and near future (USGCRP 2017).

Numerous bird species migrate to the Arctic in the summer months (Croxall et al. 2012, JNCC 2014).  As an extremely mobile group, they have the ability to transition across vast areas in a short period of time (Carrol et al. 2013, Croxall et al. 2012, Fahrig 2017, JNCC 2014). Due to this, birds are not considered to be dangerously vulnerable to climate change (Croxall et al. 2012, Fahrig 3-17).  However, the early onset of snow-melt and recent trends in late frost has led to several bird species nesting at earlier times (Cahill et al. 2013, Carrol et al. 2016, Croxall et al. 2012, JNCC 2014).  Migration routes have also been altered, as melt increasing habitat area results in migrating birds to travel less distance for their ideal temperature (Carrol et al. 2016, Croxall et al. 2012, JNCC 2014).  Warming adversely affects puffins specifically, who are adapted to living in waters about 0-20°C and catching fish who are also adapted to those colder temperatures (Durant et al. 2007).  Accustomed to nesting in rocky cliffs, Atlantic Puffins are primarily observable in Iceland (Durant et al. 2007). Sea level rise in Iceland is unlikely to occur; as the ice on Iceland melts, the island rises, exposing more land (Tedesco et al. 2017). However, the accumulation of impacts from climate change result in an indirect affect to Puffin populations present in Iceland.

As a seabird that nests in coastal areas, the Atlantic Puffin is present north of the Atlantic Ocean: northeastern coasts of Europe, the Arctic fringes, and eastern North America. The largest colony, with 60% of the population, is in Iceland.



Ocean Acidification

As the climate is warmed, the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dissolved into the ocean (Collins et al. 2013, Koenigstein et al. 2017, Kroeker et al. 2017). This then produces carbonic acid, causing the ocean to become acidic (Collins et al. 2013, Koenigstein et al. 2017, Kroeker et al. 2017). This affect influences numerous species issues; the deposition of invertebrates changes, causing shells to become increasingly thinner (Carnicer et al. 2017). Bleaching of coral reefs is also connected to ocean acidification (Collins et al. 2013, Koenigstein et al. 2017, Kroeker et al. 2017).

Puffins rely on fish species impacted by ocean acidification.


Ocean acidification has negative adverse effects on marine species. As pH levels shift, marine species previously abundant are no longer able to survive in the high-acidic area. Subsequently, seabird populations dependent on these disappearing marine species suffer.


Seabirds reliance on marine species reduces their chances of survival as food sources alter or disappear (Arnott et al. 2002, Bell et al. 2017, Cook et al. 2014, Croxall et al. 2012, Henson et al. 2017, JNCC 2014, Ockendon et al. 2014).  Ocean composition is changing, causing the composition of available food sources to change (Cahill et al. 2013, Carrol et al. 2016, Croxall et al. 2012, Fahrig 2017, JNCC 2014, Koenigstein et al. 2017).  Ocean acidification prevents the habitation of marine life seabirds are dependent upon, specifically fish (Cahill et al. 2013, Carrol et al. 2016, Croxall et al. 2012, Fahrig 2017, JNCC 2014, Koenigstein et al. 2017).

In addition, though an increase in migratory seabird habitat will result from the melting ice, the freshwater from that ice will further prevent fish species from being present near the increased habitat area (Cahill et al. 2013, Carrol et al. 2016, Croxall et al. 2012, Fahrig 2017, JNCC 2014, Koenigstein et al. 2017). Reduced prey availability and nutritional value are linked to rising sea surface temps, as breeding success and population numbers remain dependent upon such factors (Arnott et al. 2002, Bell et al. 2017, Cook et al. 2014, Croxall et al. 2012, Henson et al. 2017, JNCC 2014, Ockendon et al. 2014). Ocean acidification is contributing to the decreased likelihood of fish around the puffin’s normal habitat, as the food sources puffins are reliant on cannot withstand high acidity (Durant et al. 2007). This would then indirectly impact Puffins themselves.

Sea-Ice Melt

Utilizing ice cores, researchers have been able to separate the Greenland ice sheet into three layers; the most recent layer is from the Holocene era, while the layer underneath is from the last ice age (Tedesco et al. 2017).  At the bottom of the ice sheet is ice that dates back to the Eemian era, the last warming period (Tedesco et al. 2017).  This allows the sensitivity of the ice sheet to become clear, as fear arises over the extreme melt it experienced in 2012 (Tedesco et al. 2017, UNEP 2013).  Around 20 meters of sea level rise would occur if the entire Greenland ice sheet melted, and as warming periods grow in length the importance of focusing on the ice from the Eemian period is adamant (Tedesco et al. 2017).  Melt of the ice sheet is exposing soot, dust, and dirt; older ice is darker due to the amount of minerals in it because of the accumulation of particles as melting top layers are evaporated (Tedesco et al. 2017, UNEP 2013).  This creates a positive feedback loop; snow and ice reflect solar energy, while dirty snow and ice – as well as open water – absorb it (Tedesco et al. 2017, UNEP 2013).

Melting of the Greenland ice sheet would also drastically affect the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt (Tedesco et al. 2017).  Water becomes salty as it crosses the Atlantic Ocean before sinking below warmer, less-salty water (Lozier 2010).  If fresh water is added to the conveyor belt it slows down (Lozier 2010).  This disrupts the temperature flow, affecting continents reliant on the current speed process (Lozier 2010).  The increase in freshwater from melt of the Greenland ice sheet negatively impacts seabirds source of food.  The fish puffins eat rely on a salty water consistency; the dilution of this makes the area inhabitable (Durant et al. 2007).



International Actions

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has taken numerous steps at an international scale to assess and determine approach methods to climate change. This includes the Paris Agreement, which "formally acknowledges the urgent need to scale up our global response to climate change, which supports even greater ambition from governments" (UNFCCC).  Through this, international efforts to reverse or reduce the impacts of climate change are present today. Though not specific to Atlantic Puffins, the effects set forth by the Paris Agreement and relating UNFCCC actions have a positive result on the factors impacting puffin populations.







As an effort sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Convention on Biological Diversity was formed.  According to their website, this "represents a dramatic step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources" (Convention on Biological Diversity). Their strategic goals include (1) addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; (2) reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; (3) improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; (4) enhancing the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and (5) enhancing implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management, and capacity building.
To achieve these targets, project implementation and partnership support focused on biodiversity occur. This includes a focus on marine and coastal biodiversity.

A section of a poster available on the Convention of Biological Diversity's website. This project was a part of BirdLife.


Map of parties and non-parties of CMS.


Yet another effort sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).


As clear according to the provided map in comparison to the previous image displaying Atlantic Puffin populations, the only party applicable to specifically puffins is northeastern Europe.  In order to extend CMS and their efforts of migratory species conservation better nation participation would be necessary.  Engagement includes consultation and education.


Project Puffin interview


Non-Governmental Organizations

As a nonprofit conservation organization, the United States National Audubon Society "protects birds throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation" (Audubon Society).  Through the society, Project Puffin was created to restore breeding Atlantic Puffins off the coast of Maine.



As a species of migratory seabird, Atlantic Puffins face adverse, indirect effects from climate change. Inhabiting areas in and around the arctic circle, specifically in Iceland, Puffins will be affected by the amplification of changes the Arctic undergoes.

With ecosystem-based organizations, adaptation efforts at the national and inter-governmental scale are possible. These programs reduce puffin vulnerability and increase resilience. Moving forward, capacity building will be essential to preserve puffin populations. Examples of this would include informing communities on non-governmental programs such as Project Puffin in addition to consulting politicians and representatives of international possibilities, including funding.

Through individual contributions in addition to regional management plans, conservation of puffin populations is possible.

Audubon Project Puffin offers numerous opportunities, including:

Field opportunities

• Fellowships

Adoption programs



About the author

In addition to extracurricular activities and field involvement, coursework pertaining to my Environmental Studies and Sociology majors included a focus on recreational policy, community and globalization, climate change adaption, and traditional ecological knowledge.

As a student at St. Lawrence University, my studies have integrated into my extracurricular activities, resulting in an intertwining significance as I continue to apply such philosophies on and off campus.  For example, my 2016 student fellowship with the NY6 Think Tank involving the mindful aspects of coloring stimulated me to connect an independent course to the sociological stress experienced by female inmates at the local correctional facility.  By interacting with the inmates while creating a mindful environment through meditation and coloring, I was able to observe and authenticate the experience to intensify and reinforce classes pertaining to my major while simultaneously contributing to the community.  As Chapter Secretary and Director of Programming of the Epsilon Kappa chapter of the Chi Omega Fraternity, organization and management skills have inspired my possible future career paths. I have also worked with the education department to spend eight hours a week since Fall 2017 at a middle school in a local low-income area, encouraging children to challenge themselves when in an environment working against their possible opportunities.



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