Science & Technology

Penguin Poo Is a Clue: Discovering New Penguin Colonies From Space

Emperor penguins stay in Antarctica, which isn’t solely distant and inaccessible, however temperatures can drop to –50°C. Finding out penguin colonies is subsequently extraordinarily troublesome. However, during the last 10 years, scientists on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been capable of seek for new emperor penguin colonies utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery. Credit score: BAS

Satellite tv for pc photos have revealed that there are almost 20% extra emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than beforehand thought. Scientists, on the British Antarctic Survey, have used satellite tv for pc knowledge from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission to trace penguin guano, or penguin poo, to observe the presence of hundreds of penguins.

The findings, revealed on August 4, 2020, in Distant Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, reveal 11 new colonies, three of which have been beforehand recognized however by no means confirmed. This discovery takes the worldwide census to 61 colonies across the complete continent.

This map exhibits the areas of identified, re-discovered and newly found penguin colonies in Antarctica. Credit score: BAS/ESA

Emperor penguins stay in Antarctica, which isn’t solely distant and inaccessible, however temperatures can drop to –50°C. Finding out penguin colonies is subsequently extraordinarily troublesome. However, during the last 10 years, scientists on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been capable of seek for new emperor penguin colonies utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery.

Though penguins are too small to point out up in satellite tv for pc photos, large stains on the ice from penguin droppings – often called guano – are simple to establish on the 10 m pixel decision that the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission gives.

A penguin colony close to Ninnis Financial institution was noticed by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on August 26, 2019.Though penguins are too small to point out up in satellite tv for pc photos, large stains on the ice from penguin droppings – often called guano – are simple to establish. These brownish patches have allowed scientists to find and monitor penguin populations throughout your complete continent. Credit score: Incorporates modified Copernicus Sentinel knowledge (2019), processed by ESA,

These brownish patches have allowed scientists to find and monitor penguin populations throughout your complete continent.

Peter Fretwell, lead creator and geographer at BAS, feedback, “That is an thrilling discovery. The brand new satellite tv for pc photos of the Antarctica shoreline have enabled us to search out these new colonies. And while that is excellent news, the colonies are small and so solely take the general inhabitants depend up by 5–10%, to simply over half a million penguins or round 265 500 – 278 500 breeding pairs.”

The outcomes, due to satellite tv for pc photos from Copernicus Sentinel-2, are an essential milestone for monitoring the impression of environmental change on the inhabitants of emperor penguins.

A penguin colony close to Yuletide Bay was captured on this picture by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 23 November 2016. Credit score: Incorporates modified Copernicus Sentinel knowledge (2016), processed by ESA

The flightless birds are identified to be significantly weak to local weather change, as warming ocean waters are melting the ocean ice the place they stay and breed. Following the present projections of local weather change, their habitat is more likely to decline. The outcomes from the examine present that almost all of the newly discovered colonies are on the margins of the emperors’ breeding vary – areas that may very well be misplaced because the local weather continues to heat.

Philip Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at BAS, has been learning penguins for the final three a long time. He says, “While it’s excellent news that we’ve discovered these new colonies, the breeding websites are all in areas the place latest mannequin projections counsel emperors will decline. Birds in these websites are subsequently in all probability the ‘canaries within the coalmine’ – we have to watch these websites rigorously as local weather change will have an effect on this area.”

A penguin colony close to Cape Gates was captured on this picture by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 7 November 2016. Credit score: Incorporates modified Copernicus Sentinel knowledge (2016), processed by ESA,

The examine discovered a variety of colonies 180 km offshore, located on sea ice that has fashioned round icebergs that had grounded in shallow water. These colonies are a shocking new discovering within the habits of this more and more well-known species.

Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission designed particularly to ship the wealth of knowledge and imagery which can be central to the European Fee’s Copernicus programme. Satellites, such because the Sentinel-2 mission, present us with a world protection, revisiting the identical area each few days. The information present a good understanding of the well being and habits of our planet – and the way it’s constantly affected by local weather change.

Reference: “Discovery of recent colonies by Sentinel2 reveals good and unhealthy information for emperor penguins” by Peter T. Fretwell and Philip N. Trathan, 4 August 2020, Distant Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.

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