Researchers revealed that scientists have used satellite mapping technology to discover a new colony of the highly threatened emperor penguins in Antarctica.
The newly discovered colony, announced to mark Penguin Awareness Day, brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites around the coastline of Antarctica to 66, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said.
The site, identified by penguin guano – or poo – stains which are brown and easy to spot against the snow and rock, is at Verleger Point, West Antarctica, and has around 500 birds.
The scientists studied photos from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission, which were compared to and confirmed by high-resolution images from the MAXAR WorldView3 satellite.
Dr. Peter Fretwell, the lead author of the research that made the find, said that while it was “exciting,” the colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss.
Emperor penguins, the biggest of the 18 penguin species and stand around 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) tall, need sea ice to breed.
The scientists said they found in areas that are very hard to study because they are remote, inaccessible, and very cold, with temperatures dropping to as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit), the scientists said.
So for the last 15 years, BAS researchers have been looking for new colonies by searching satellite images for penguin guano.
The scientists said that half of the known colonies have been discovered by satellite imagery.
Dr. Fretwell, who studies wildlife from space at BAS, said: “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 recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss.”
Emperor penguins are vulnerable to sea ice loss, which is set to decline as the climate changes.
Recent projections suggest that under current warming trends, 80% of colonies will be quasi-extinct by the end of the century, BAS warned.
The science funding body funded the research UKRI-NERC as part of the “Wildlife from Space” project with a contribution from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) conservation charity.