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Home Tech News Poo stains seen from space, lead scientists to new penguin colony

Poo stains seen from space, lead scientists to new penguin colony

The site is at Verleger Point, West Antarctica, and has around 500 birds (Picture: Getty Images)

A new emperor penguin colony has been discovered in Antarctica using satellite mapping technology, scientists have said.

The newly-discovered colony, announced to mark Penguin Awareness Day, brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites around the coastline of Antarctica to 66, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said.

The site, identified by penguin guano – or poo – stains which are brown and easy to spot against the snow and rock, is at Verleger Point, West Antarctica, and has around 500 birds.

The scientists studied images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission which were compared to and confirmed by high- resolution images from the MAXAR WorldView3 satellite.

Dr Peter Fretwell, the lead author of the research that made the find, said that while it was ‘exciting’, the colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY JANUARY 20 Undated handout photo issued by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) of a new emperor penguin colony has been discovered in Antarctica using satellite mapping technology. Issue date: Friday January 20, 2023. PA Photo. The newly-discovered colony, announced to mark Penguin Awareness Day, brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites around the coastline of Antarctica to 66, the British Antarctic Survey said. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Penguins. Photo credit should read: BAS/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Penguin ‘guano’ or poo stains are brown and easy to spot against the snow (Picture: PA)

Emperor penguins, which are the biggest of the 18 penguin species and stand around 1.2m (nearly four feet) tall, need sea ice to breed.

They are found in areas that are very hard to study because they are remote, inaccessible and very cold, with temperatures dropping to as low as minus 60C, the scientists said.

So for the last 15 years, BAS researchers have been looking for new colonies by searching satellite images for penguin guano.

Half of the known colonies have been discovered by satellite imagery, the scientists said.

‘This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline have enabled us to find many new colonies,’ said Dr Fretwell, who studies wildlife from space at BAS.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY JANUARY 20 Undated handout photo issued by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) of emperor penguins, as a new emperor penguin colony has been discovered in Antarctica using satellite mapping technology, scientists said. Issue date: Friday January 20, 2023. PA Photo. The newly-discovered colony, announced to mark Penguin Awareness Day, brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites around the coastline of Antarctica to 66, the British Antarctic Survey said. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Penguins. Photo credit should read: P Bucktrout/BAS/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

The discovery brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites around the coastline of Antarctica to 66 (Picture: PA)

‘And whilst this is good news, like many of the recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss,’

Emperor penguins are vulnerable to the loss of sea ice, which is set to decline as the climate changes.

Recent projections suggest that under current warming trends, 80% of colonies will be quasi-extinct by the end of the century, BAS warned.


MORE : How the famously flightless penguin may make our flights safer


MORE : Frozen Planet scientist sobs after explaining how climate change is ‘killing off’ penguins: ‘We need to do something about it’

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