A new study using satellite images has discovered 11 previously unknown emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. This discovery increases the number of colonies that we know about by 20%!
Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey used images from the European satellite called Copernicus Sentinel-2 to find the birds. They spotted the penguins by the red-brown guano (poo) patches that the birds leave on the ice.
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The dark spots on the ice show the new emperor penguin colonies. Image taken from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite.
There are now 61 known colonies of penguins around the world. Two of the new colonies were discovered on sea ice formed around icebergs in shallow water, which has never been seen before.
It is very difficult to study emperor penguins because they live in places that are difficult to find and are very cold, with temperatures as low as -50°C!
While the researchers are very excited about the discovery, they say that the new colonies are small and only take the overall population count of penguins up by 5-10% to just over half a million penguins or around 265 500- 278 500 breeding pairs.
Unfortunately, most of the newly-discovered colonies are found in areas that are likely to be lost as the climate gets warmer. The researchers say that the birds need to be studied carefully so that any changes in their environment can be quickly spotted.
Next month, the team will use very strong satellites over the colonies so that they can count the penguins in the new colonies.
Previous studies say that 80% of penguin colonies around the world will decrease by more than 90% by the year 2100 if sea ice in Antarctica decreases by half. Even if temperatures increase by 1.5°C, populations will decrease by at least 31% over the next three generations.