A new penguin colony has been discovered, completely accidentally, from satellite photos taken of Antarctica from space. The penguin colony was identified from space through their droppings, which had stained the ice.
The European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite, was positioned over Antarctica when Dr Peter Fretwell, a scientist with British Antarctic Survey, noticed that the usually pristine, white ice, was discoloured with brown stains. This is a distinctive sign of an emperor penguin colony.
The colony is estimated to be quite small for an emperor penguin colony- around 1000 penguins. After discovering the brown-stained ice, a different satellite, the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite, that can take higher resolution photos, was able to pick up the penguins. Even on this camera, the penguins only appeared as tiny, black pixels.
Because Antarctica is so remote, penguin colonies can be difficult to map out. Finding new colonies is usually done by satellite imagery, due to the vastness of the continent, and the icy temperatures making expeditions into the region difficult. This colony is added to the knowledge base of Emperor penguins, and is now one of the 66 colonies that are known about.
“This is an exciting discovery,” said Dr Fretwell. Though he also cautioned that the discovery showed the penguins lived in an area where sea ice was melting, and that rapid climate change action was needed. Otherwise, Fretwell said, “we will probably lose a minimum of 80% of emperor penguin colonies before the end of the century.”
Emperor penguins need stable sea ice. The sea ice is needed as a stable breeding ground to raise penguin chicks, to feed, and also to keep out of the way of predators. As the sea ice melts, chicks will struggle to survive, and colonies will become smaller.
There are many ways we can help on a small scale to help in the fight against climate change. Here are 11 Things You Can Do For Climate Change Now.