Satellite images revealed 11 previously unknown colonies of Emperor penguins in Antarctica. This is the only penguins that breed on the sea ice, which makes them particularly vulnerable to climate crisis. Their population in Antarctica is just over half a million individuals.
Discoveries were made by detecting the characteristic reddish-brown stain, which the birds leave on the ice. The findings were made possible thanks to the images with higher resolution obtained from a new satellite, as the previous scan could not identify the smaller colonies.
The satellite Sentinel-2 the European space Agency was launched in June 2015 and has a resolution of 10 meters. It allowed to find small colonies of penguins, scientists said in an article for the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
A special surprise for the experts was two new colonies of birds, which were found far from shore, living on sea ice attached to the icebergs. Each colony has several hundred penguins. All new colonies are situated in areas at risk, and researchers say that after a while the penguins will be like “Canaries in the coal mine”, as global warming will increasingly affect Antarctica.
According to Peter Fretwell, a scientist from the British Antarctic service (BAS), who led the research, Emperor penguins for successful reproduction requires stable sea ice for nine months of the year.
According to The Guardian, ten years ago, scientists have known a total of 30 colonies of Emperor penguins because they are usually located in remote and inaccessible areas where winter temperatures can drop to -50 degrees. But then they were used Landsat satellite images. They have a resolution of 30 meters, which is sufficient to detect large colonies.
The researchers proceeded from the fact that Emperor penguins appear regularly on the coast of Antarctica, so the goal of the search was districts, of which nobody knew. Now around Antarctica, there are 61 known bird colony. The researchers plan to calculate the exact number of penguins. Previous studies have revealed that 90 percent of the known colonies of Emperor penguins will be lost by the end of the century, if not further action taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
Even in the best case, when a significant and rapid reduction of carbon emissions, limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the population of Emperor penguins, according to forecasts, will decrease by 30 percent.
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