Satellite images of poop lead scientists to an exciting discovery

Satellite images of poop lead scientists to an exciting discovery

In the increasingly advanced field of global science, you might think that discovering animal feces in satellite images would be of little consequence.

But for a research team studying Antarctica, making such a find led to what it described as “an exciting discovery.”

Perhaps it is better that we explain ourselves.

After poring over images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission and also from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite, scientists were recently able to confirm the existence of a new emperor penguin colony comprising around 500 birds.

The scientists were able to identify the colony from the birds’ guano stains, which are brown in color and therefore relatively easy to spot against ice and rock, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) explained in a report. .

The emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguins, and was declared a threatened species by the US government last year due to the effects of climate change.

The image below is from the Maxar satellite and shows the location of the newly discovered colony at Verleger Point in West Antarctica.

A satellite image of Antarctica.
Aerial images from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite show the newly discovered emperor penguin colony at Verleger Point. Maxar Technologies

This latest discovery means scientists now have data on 66 emperor penguin colonies along the Antarctic coast, half of which were discovered via satellite imagery.

“This is an exciting discovery,” said Dr. Peter Fretwell, who studies wildlife from space at BAS. “New satellite images of the Antarctic coast have allowed us to find many new colonies. And while this is good news, like many of the recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in a region severely affected by the recent loss of sea ice.”

The BAS said that based on current climate change projections, the penguins’ natural sea ice habitat will be greatly affected, leading to 80% of these colonies becoming nearly extinct by the end of the century.

BAS also noted how emperor colonies in the area are difficult to study because they often exist in remote and inaccessible locations. Conditions at these sites often see temperatures drop as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius). It is these factors that prompted BAS to start using satellite imagery 15 years ago, and scientists kept their eyes peeled for guano patches in the ice.

Several years ago, conservationists also began using Maxar’s powerful satellite to collect data on another endangered species.

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