New Emperor Penguin Clusters Spotted Through Unorthodox Method

By: Noemi Elliott

11 additional emperor penguin clusters are found in Antarctica by satellites in space- through the detection of large quantities of guano, penguin poop, in the southernmost continent. Using the images from Europe’s Sentinel-2 satellite mission, scientists search for bird droppings, indicated by smudges on ice.

With a total of 61 known penguin colonies, the new addition accounts for 20% of the total. Notoriously difficult to study in-person, emperor penguins reside in remote areas inaccessible to humans, living at temperatures well below zero, as low as minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline have enabled us to find these new colonies. And whilst this is good news, the colonies are small and so only take the overall population count up by 5-10% to just over half a million penguins or around 265,500 – 278,500 breeding pairs,” noted Dr Peter Fretwell, a geographer at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

As man-made global warming is steadily rising sea levels and temperatures worldwide, the bird is particularly vulnerable with the projected loss of sea ice. As its natural breeding ground, the species will face difficulty in adapting, as their breeding habits rely on stable, solid sea ice.

“They are not agile and climbing ashore across steep coastal landforms will be difficult. For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat,” said Dr Philip Trathan of BAS.

According to BAS, if climate change trends continue, studies suggest that by the end of the century, 80% of existing colonies will decrease by more than 90%. However, the impacts of global warming extend beyond penguins- to the entire population of Earth.

“We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms. By understanding what happened during Earth’s last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future. The prospect of loss of sea-ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible,” said Dr Louise Sime, group head of the Palaeoclimate group at BAS.





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