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A group of scientists described as surprising the finding of 11 new penguin colonies in Antarctica revealed by satellite images.
With this new discovery, colonies across the continent now number 61, which implies an increase of 20%.
The study, which used satellite mapping technology, from the European Commission's Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission "will provide an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this iconic bird," the researchers said.
The study and monitoring of emperor penguins is not easy because they live in remote and inaccessible areas with temperatures as low as -50 ° C where the conditions for their reproduction exist.
Penguins and climate change
Climate change is a real threat to the species, as the loss of sea ice will devastate its habitats. According to the report the new colonies “are situated on the fringes of the breeding area of the emperors“, Which makes them vulnerable as global temperatures rise.
Earlier this year it emerged that penguin colonies in some parts of Antarctica had declined by more than 75% over the last half of the century, largely as a result of climate change. And sadly, the population of all emperor penguins is expected to decline by 80% by the end of the century.
Phil Trathan, head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), has been studying penguins for the past three decades. He said in a statement: “While it is good news that we have found these new colonies, the breeding sites are in places where emperors will decline, recent model projections suggest.“.
In the last 10 years scientists have been looking for new colonies by studying guano patches - droppings - of penguins on the ice. The researchers studied the images manually, looking for brown pixels that marked the stained areas.
Now with Sentinel-2, researchers have much higher resolution images, and will even be able to count the number of birds in the colonies.
The emperor is the largest of all penguins: an average specimen measures about 115 centimeters, is unable to fly and lives in the Antarctic ice and in the icy waters that surround them.
They resorted to psychological adaptation techniques and collaborative behaviors to be able to face an incredibly hostile environment, where the thermal sensation can reach -60 degrees Celsius.
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