A never-before-seen emperor penguin colony — considered one of solely 66 identified to exist — has been noticed accidentally in satellite images of West Antarctica that clearly present their guano, or droppings, staining the ice.
The colony is estimated to be dwelling to about 1,000 grownup birds, in 500 pairs with their younger, which makes it comparatively small for an emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) breeding web site. But it surely’s an vital addition to what’s identified of the species.
Peter Fretwell (opens in new tab), a geographic data officer with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), found the colony in December; however the announcement was delayed in order that it coincided with Penguin Consciousness Day, which is held on Jan. 20 annually.
Fretwell instructed Reside Science that he was taking a look at sea ice loss in images from the European Area Company’s two Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites (opens in new tab) when he noticed the distinctive indicators of an emperor penguin colony. “I may see what seemed like a really small brown stain on the ice,” he stated.
Larger decision images of the identical space taken in October by the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite (opens in new tab), which may picture objects as small as 12 inches (30 centimeters) throughout, confirmed the presence of the breeding colony, close to West Antarctica’s Verleger Level, Fretwell stated.
As a result of the penguins’ guano accumulates and s
tains the ice and snow a deep-brown coloration, it’s a lot simpler to see from afar than the emperor penguins themselves. However the high-resolution photographs additionally present particular person emperor penguins — pictured as tiny dots — and the inhabitants estimate is predicated on these, Fretwell stated.
Seabirds by satellite tv for pc
Emperor penguin colonies are sometimes distant and tough to review, however BAS scientists have found a number of in satellite tv for pc photographs of Antarctica’s shoreline over the previous 15 years. Current satellite tv for pc analysis has even advised that there could possibly be round 20% extra emperor penguins within the Antarctic than beforehand estimated.
Emperor penguins solely breed on packed sea ice. This reliance on sea ice, nevertheless, additionally makes the penguins weak to its loss in a warming local weather; and West Antarctica has already been badly affected.
“Final 12 months we had the minimal ever sea ice extent in Antarctica, and this 12 months is even worse, for 2 consecutive years,” Fretwell stated. “It is estimated that we are going to in all probability lose a minimal of 80% of emperor penguin colonies earlier than the top of the century.”
Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest of all penguins, usually reaching as much as 39 inches (100 cm) in peak and weighing as much as 100 kilos (45 kilograms.) They get their identify from their dramatic black, white and yellow plumage.
Emperors spend many of the Antarctic summer time diving for fish, crustaceans and krill. They breed through the darkish winter months on the floor of the packed sea ice, generally greater than 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the open ocean, and the place temperatures can dip as little as minus 76 levels Fahrenheit (minus 60 Celsius).
Fretwell lately visited Antarctica to watch one other massive emperor penguin colony by aerial drone, to verify the numerical estimates of penguin breeding colonies solely seen in satellite tv for pc images.
And whereas he acquired shut sufficient to scent the penguin poop, it wasn’t that unhealthy, he stated.
As a result of emperor penguin colonies are on sea ice, a lot of the guano is frozen and would not scent — not like the colonies of penguins that breed amongst rocks, the place the scent may be intense. “The emperors are extra stately and never as smelly as different penguins,” he stated.
Initially revealed on LiveScience.com.