Researchers discover a new colony of emperor penguins

Emperor Penguin

Scientists have discovered a new colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica using satellite mapping technology. This new colony represents a total of 66 known emperor penguin colonies around the Antarctic coast; exactly half were discovered by satellite imagery.

The team studied images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission, which were compared and confirmed with high-resolution images from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite. They identified the colony by the birds’ guano stains, which are brown in color and easier to identify next to ice and rocks. The new site, at Verleger Point West Antarctica, is home to around 500 birds and is located at 74°42’S, 136°11’W.

Emperor penguins need sea ice to breed and are located in areas that are difficult to survey as they are remote and often inaccessible and can experience temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F). For the past 15 years, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have searched for new colonies by searching satellite images to detect their guano patches on the ice.

“This is an exciting discovery,” says lead author Peter Fretwell. “The new satellite images of the Antarctic coastline have allowed us to discover many new colonies. And while that’s good news, like many recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in an area badly affected by the recent melting of sea ice.

Aerial images from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite show guano stains that indicate the recently discovered penguin colony at Verleger Point. Satellite image © 2023 Maxar Technologies.

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Emperor penguins are known to be vulnerable to loss of sea ice, their preferred breeding habitat. The most recent projects suggest that, given current warming trends, 80% of colonies will be nearly extinct by the end of the century.

Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed emperor penguins as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Martha Williams, director of the agency, said: “The Emperor Penguin listing serves as a wake-up call as well as a call to action. »

The research was part of the Wildlife from Space project, funded by UKRI-NERC with a contribution from WWF.

Copernicus Sentinel-2 is one of the satellite missions that the European Space Agency is developing and operating on behalf of the European Commission’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme. Sentinel-2 has been collecting images of Antarctica since 2016 following a request from SCAR, the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research. Maxar Technologies is a commercial satellite provider. The featured image that confirmed the find is a 30cm resolution WorldView-3 image of the site dated October 18, 2021.

Thanks to the British Antarctic Survey for providing us with this news.

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