Using satellite mapping technology, scientists have discovered a new emperor penguin colony in Antarctica by looking at their guano (excrement) stains, which are dark in colour and easier to distinguish next to the ice and rock.
This new colony makes a total of 66 known emperor penguin colonies around the coastline of Antarctica, with exactly half having been discovered by satellite imagery, according to the team of scientists led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
Around 500 birds are housed at the new location, which is at Verleger Point, West Antarctica.
“This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline have enabled us to find many new colonies. And while this is good news, like many of the recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss,” said lead author Dr Peter Fretwell, who studies wildlife from space at BAS.
The team studied images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission, which were compared to and confirmed by high resolution images from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite.
“Emperor penguins need sea ice to breed and are located in areas that are very difficult to study because they are remote and often inaccessible and can experience temperatures as low as minus 60 degree Celsius,” according to BAS.
For the last 15 years, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists have been looking for new colonies by searching satellite imagery for their guano stains on the ice.
Emperor penguins are known to be vulnerable to loss of sea ice, their favoured breeding habitat.
With current projections of climate change, this habitat is likely to decline.
The most recent projects suggest that, under current warming trends, 80 per cent of colonies will be quasi-extinct by the end of the century.