A never-before-seen emperor penguin colony — certainly one of solely 66 recognized to exist — has been noticed by chance in satellite tv for pc pictures of West Antarctica that clearly present their guano, or droppings, staining the ice.
The colony is estimated to be house to about 1,000 grownup birds, in 500 pairs with their younger, which makes it comparatively small for an emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) breeding website. However it’s an vital addition to what’s recognized 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 every year.
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Fretwell informed Stay Science that he was sea ice loss in pictures 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 might see what seemed like a really small brown stain on the ice,” he stated.
Greater decision pictures of the identical space taken in October by the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite tv for pc (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 shade, it’s a lot simpler to see from afar than the emperor penguins themselves. However the high-resolution photos additionally present particular person emperor penguins — pictured as tiny dots — and the inhabitants estimate relies on these, Fretwell stated.
Seabirds by satellite tv for pc
Emperor penguin colonies are sometimes distant and tough to check, however BAS scientists have found a number of in satellite tv for pc photographs of Antarctica’s shoreline over the previous 15 years. Latest satellite tv for pc analysis has even urged that there might be round 20% extra emperor penguins within the Antarctic than beforehand estimated.
Emperor penguins completely breed on packed sea ice. This reliance on sea ice, nonetheless, additionally makes the penguins susceptible 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’ll in all probability lose a minimal of 80% of emperor penguin colonies earlier than the top of the century.”
On account of this menace from local weather change, emperors are actually listed as a threatened species (opens in new tab) beneath the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
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Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest of all penguins, sometimes reaching as much as 39 inches (100 cm) in top and weighing as much as 100 kilos (45 kilograms.) They get their identify from their dramatic black, white and yellow plumage.
Emperors spend a lot of the Antarctic summer season diving for fish, crustaceans and krill. They breed throughout 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 just 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 pictures.
And whereas he acquired shut sufficient to odor 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 odor — not like the colonies of penguins that breed amongst rocks, the place the odor may be intense. “The emperors are extra stately and never as smelly as different penguins,” he stated.
Initially revealed on LiveScience.com.
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