In a new study, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have found new clues about penguin activity in Antarctica in space images. The feces smudges of these penguins suggest that they have created some new habitats, but most of these sites are located in areas that may be highly vulnerable to climate change.
This photo was taken on the Brent Ice Shelf near the Harley Research Station at the British Antarctic Expedition. Photo from the British Antarctic Survey.
Penguins may be good at avoiding humans, but they can’t escape the satellites that orbit the Earth. New satellite images show some black smudges on the white ice sheet of the coldest continent, which is the droppings of emperor penguins. The results show that the habitat of emperor penguins in Antarctica is nearly 20 percent largeer than previously thought.
The findings are both “good news and bad news” because all of these new habitats are located in areas that are at high risk of climate change, according to a study published On August 4 in the journal Remote Sensing and Conservation.
Satellite images of Cape Gates taken by ESA Sentinel 2 in 2016 show the feces smudges (brown spots) of emperor penguins.
It is not easy to count exactly how many emperor penguins live in Antarctica, as these animals usually breed in very cold, remote and inaccessible places. To solve this problem, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey have been using satellite images for traces of penguin feces to indirectly understand the survival of emperor penguins. In the new study, scientists analyzed images taken by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellite in 2016, 2018 and 2019 and looked closely at the brown pixels in the images, which represent the penguin’s feces.
The images show eight new emperor penguin habitats and confirm the existence of three other previously confirmed habitats, bringing the total number of emperor penguin habitats across the Antarctic continent to 61. But according to the study, most of the habitats were small, and researchers had to use multiple pictures to confirm their presence. The study found that the 11 new habitats increased the known number of emperor penguins by 5 to 10 percent, or 5.5, bringing the total number of existing emperor penguins in the world to 531,000 to 557,000.
Emperor penguins are the largest and tallest species in the penguin family, with adult individuals up to 120 cm in height and weighing up to 46 kg. “While the discovery of these new habitats is good news, their breeding sites are located where recent models predict a decline in the number of emperor penguins,” Phil Tratan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey, said in a statement. “
This image, taken by Sentinel 2 in 2019, also shows the feces spots on the Ninness Glacier (brown)
According to the study, almost all emperor penguins’ habitats rely on stable sea ice fixed on the land for reproduction. The ice on land needs to remain stable for about nine months, allowing the hatched emperor penguin chicks to breed and feather.
Previous model projections suggest that climate change and melting ice may lead to a decline in emperor penguin populations, the statement said. A study published in the journal Global Change Biology in 2019 found that even if global temperatures rise by only 1.5 degrees Celsius , which climate scientists think is ideal , the number of emperor penguins in Antarctica will fall by at least 31% over the next three generations .
Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey say some of the newly discovered emperor penguin habitats are located far offshore, some on sea ice 180km from the coast. ‘This is the first time that emperor penguins have been found to breed far from the coast, meaning there are potential breeding grounds for emperor penguins where we don’t know,’ the study authors wrote. However, the researchers also note that “these areas far the coast are more northerly and in relatively warm areas, making them more susceptible to the disappearance of early sea ice.” “
This isn’t the first time scientists have found new penguin habitats from traces of penguin feces. According to previous reports, another team discovered an unknown population of 1.5 million Adelie penguins in the dangerous archipelago of the Antarctic Peninsula two years ago. They also found fecal smudges from the super penguin population in satellite images. Despite the change in climate, the number of these Adelie penguins has increased, while similar numbers have declined on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.