New Emperor Penguin Colony Spotted Through Satellite Imagery

By Hannah Lozada

It’s very hard to spot Emperor penguin colonies when their colorations blend into their surroundings.  Thankfully, a team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have discovered a way to solve this issue. 

The team decided to use satellite imagery to easily spot Emperor penguin colonies. Since the penguin poop (or guano) is brown, it is easily detectable on the ice and rocks of Antarctica. Analyzing the penguin poop from space benefits the scientists’ health because penguin poop contains high amounts of nitrous oxide. 

Nitrous Oxide is very harmful to the environment since it is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The gas is also known as laughing gas, and is used to sedate people at the dentist. The side effects of this gas include symptoms of calmness, relaxation, shivering, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, giggles, along with more.

A scientist called Professor Bo Elberling informed the Agence France-Presse (AFP) about the matter, “Penguin guano (poop) produces high levels of nitrous oxide around their colonies.” He continued, listing side effects from this gas after being exposed to it for several hours. “One starts to feel ill and get a headache.” 

A satellite called the Maxar WorldView-3 located the newest colony of emperor penguins at Verleger Point, West Antarctica, and is predicted to have about 500 penguins. This increases the total number of emperor penguin colonies near the coastline from 65 to 66.

The European Space Agency (ESA) runs a satellite mission called Copernicus Sentinel-2 that has been taking pictures of Antarctica since 2015. Approximately 33 known colonies in Antarctica have been discovered through satellite imagery. The team has used this technique for over 16 years. 

Dr. Peter Fretwell, a scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), made a statement regarding the new penguin colony. “This is an exciting discovery. Satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline have enabled us to discover many new colonies.” Despite the good news, he expressed some concern, “this colony is small and the region is badly affected by recent sea ice loss. The most recent projects suggest that, under current warming trends, 80% of colonies will be quasi-extinct [population collapse] by the end of the century.” 

The amount of sea ice has been decreasing because of the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Emperor penguins depend on the sea ice to be able to breed and escape their predators. According to a recent study that was documented in the Global Change Biology journal, emperor penguins are at risk of becoming extinct by 2100.

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