New images from Sentinel 2 have shown that about 20% more emperor penguin population as 11 new colonies are found in Antarctica.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) researchers used images from the European Commission's Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mapping to achieve "an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change" on the penguin population. With 11 new colonies found, there are now a total of 61 colonies across the continent.
According to CNN, experts said that the undiscovered animals will act as "canaries in the coalmine" while studying the impacts of global warming. BAS head of conservation biology Phil Trathan who studied penguins for three decades, said the new colonies are found in breeding locations where recent model forecasts show a decline in emperors' populations. "We need to watch these sites carefully as climate change will affect this region," Trathan said.
According to the ZSL report published on Tuesday, August 4, the new colonies are located at the edges of their breeding range, making the birds vulnerable as climate change may lead to the loss of sea ice.
BAS geographer Dr. Peter Fretwell, who is the lead author of the study, said the Antarctica coastline's new satellite images helped in achieving the new findings. "This is an exciting discovery," Fretwell said.
The satellite is part of a program to observe the Earth and environment changes. They have been using Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation in the past 10 years.
Studying penguin colonies is extremely difficult as emperor penguins live in Antarctica, which is remote and inaccessible as well as temperature can drop to -50°C. They also need sea ice to breed.
Several colonies were found on sea ice formed around icebergs in shallow water, up to 180 kilometers offshore, while three of the new breeding sites had previously been identified, although they had just been confirmed now.
Emperor penguin is largest species of the flightless bird
Growing up to around four feet and weigh from 49 to 99 pounds, emperor penguins are the largest species of flightless birds. They live together in the Antarctic to keep their warm amid the icy climate where temperatures can be as low as -90C.
Emperor penguins can be easily recognized with their distinctive black back and head, yellow patches on their necks, and white breast. Females lay their eggs before hunting for food while males to incubate the eggs.
The newly discovered colonies give hope to the scientists because it only means the overall population of the emperor penguins had increased by 5% to 10% to just over 500,000 penguins by about 265,500 to 278,500 breeding pairs.
The penguin colonies are expected to decline by more than 75% over the past half-century because of climate change. Besides, it is expected to decline by 80% by the end of this century.
"The only real threat to emperor penguins is climate change," Fretwell said adding that the sea ice melts cannot be put back. "It is a global problem."
Written by:CJ Robles