Satellite pictures lead bored scientists to exciting discoveries

Satellite pictures lead bored scientists to exciting discoveries

In the ever-advancing field of global science, you might think that finding animal coloration in satellite imagery would be of little consequence.

But for a research team studying Antarctica, it was what he described as an “exciting discovery”.

Maybe we want to explain better.

After viewing images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission and the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite, scientists were recently able to confirm the existence of a new emperor penguin colony of around 500 birds.

Scientists were able to identify the colony from the birds’ guano stains, which are brown in color and therefore relatively easy to see against the ice and rock, explained the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in a report.

The emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species, and last year the US government declared a threatened species due to climate change.

The image below is from the Maxar satellite and shows the location of the newly discovered colony at Verleger Point in West Antarctica.

Satellite image of Antarctica.
Aerial imagery from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite shows the newly discovered emperor penguin colony at Verleger Point. Maxar Technologies

This latest discovery means scientists now have data on 66 emperor penguin colonies along the Antarctic coast, half of which were found through satellite imagery.

“This is an exciting discovery,” said Dr Peter Fretwell, who studies wildlife from space at BAS. β€œThe new satellite images of the Antarctic coast have enabled us to discover many new colonies. And while this is good news, like many of the sites recently discovered, this colony is small and in a region that has been hit hard by the recent loss of sea ice.”

The BAS said that according to current climate change projections, the penguins’ natural sea ice habitat will be hit hard, leaving 80% of these colonies semi-extinct by the end of the century.

BAS also noted that it is difficult to study emperor colonies in the area because they are often in remote and inaccessible locations. Conditions at these sites often see temperatures drop as low as βˆ’76 degrees fahrenheit (βˆ’60 degrees Celsius). These factors prompted BAS to start using satellite images 15 years ago, with scientists keeping a close eye on guano stains on the ice.

Several years ago, conservationists also began using the powerful Maxar satellite to collect data on other endangered species.

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