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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

Penguin census from space

Emperor penguins stand out against the ice - even seen from space!

Emperor penguins stand out against the ice - even seen from space! Picture by Paul Ponganis, NSF

Scientists are using satellite mapping technology to count penguins in Antarctica. The latest results have shown that there are actually twice as many emperor penguins there as previously thought. Isn’t it nice when you hear some good news for a change?

The information provides a more accurate basis for researchers to monitor how environmental change is affecting the penguins.  Satellite photography is proving to be a great way of keeping track of the penguins because their black and white feathers stand out against the snow, so the colonies are clearly visible on satellite imagery.

An international team of scientists has been using Very High Resolution satellite images to estimate the number of emperor penguins at colonies around the Antarctic coastline. They have actually found seven previously unknown colonies. The birds breed in very remote areas which are often inaccessible with temperatures down to -50%C.

The lead author of the report published in the journal PLoS ONE this week, Peter Fretwell of British Antarctic Survey says this is the “first comprehensive census of a species taken from space.”

The background is that scientists are concerned that the emperor penguins will be seriously affected by climate change. In some areas of Antarctica, it is getting warmer earlier in spring and sea ice is being lost, making life tougher for the “emperors”. The northerly colonies will be more vulnerable than southerly ones.

The project is a joint venture between British Antarctic Survey, University of Minnesota/National Science Foundation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Australian Antarctic Division.

READ MORE on National Science Foundation website.


April 16, 2012 | 9:58 am