Using satellite photographs of one of Antarctica’s most remote and inaccessible places, a newly discovered emperor penguin colony has been identified.
There are currently 66 documented emperor penguin colonies around Antarctica’s coastline, half of which were found by satellites. The colony, which is home to roughly 500 birds, brings the total to 66. These colonies are facing an existential threat from the climate issue as the sea ice is melting quickly.
Emperor Penguin Colony
The research’s principal investigator, Dr. Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey, called the finding “interesting.” However, this colony is modest and located in an area that has been severely impacted by recent sea ice loss, similar to many of the previously discovered sites.
Emperor penguins are the only penguins that reproduce on sea ice rather than on land, and because they live in remote, inhospitable locations and can suffer temperatures as low as 60C, they are particularly challenging to study. For the past 15 years, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists have used satellite data to look for distinctive brown guano stains (penguin poop) on the ice in an effort to locate new colonies.
Copernicus Sentinel-2 Satellite Mission
The most recent colony was found at Verleger Point in west Antarctica using photos from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission of the European Commission, and it was later confirmed with high-quality photographs from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite.
Because they reproduce on sea ice, emperor penguins are considered to be particularly vulnerable to sea ice loss. According to the experts, 80% of colonies will be all but extinct by the end of the century if current warming trends continue.
Penguins are especially vulnerable to climate change because they depend on the ice to last from April to September so that the chicks have time to develop more strength. According to Fretwell, if the ice breaks up before that, the chicks will fall into the water and either drown or freeze.
As the birds close together for safety from winter storms, especially during the two-month period when the male penguins incubate the eggs before they hatch, the size of penguin colonies also directly affects their survival.
Sea ice changes have already resulted in the loss of colonies, including one in Halley Bay which had been stable for 50 years, and another in Marguerite Bay which had been researched since the 1940s. Fretwell stated, “What we’re doing on the other side of the planet is slowly killing them. Most emperor penguins will never encounter a person in their lifetime.
By the end of the century, 90% of known colonies, according to an earlier study, will have vanished if no additional steps are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.