A group of researchers have found nearly 20 per cent more emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than earlier thought. They came across the colonies with the help of satellite mapping technology.
The findings have been revealed in the Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation journal. The researchers used images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission. They said that 11 new colonies were found of which three were previously discovered but were not confirmed. With the new findings, the total penguin colonies now stood at 61 in the continent
Sentinel2 satellite imagery has a higher resolution and more efficient search mechanism than the Landsat data used previously to search for colonies. Tracing a colony of emperor penguins was difficult as they are located in remote and often inaccessible regions with temperatures as low as minus 50°C. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been looking for new colonies for the last ten years.
Stating that this was an exciting finding, lead author and geographer at BAS Dr Peter Fretwell said that it was good to see more colonies but these are small and as such the overall penguin population will only go up by 5 to 10 per cent.
They found some colonies in offshore habitats, which were not previously reported for emperor penguins. “Comparison with recent modelling results show that the geographic locations of all the newly found colonies are in areas likely to be highly vulnerable under business‐as‐usual greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, suggesting that population decreases for the species will be greater than previously thought,” the researchers said.
The largest of the new colony now found lies at Cape Gates. The scientists said that the location and grouping of the colony has been variable, with subgroups forming in each year. In 2018, one small subgroup relocated some 15 km to the east of the main colony site. They noted that it was evident that future climate change was likely to affect the colonies as they were distributed in vulnerable locations.