Penguin Poo from Space

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Offline Hadrian

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Penguin Poo from Space
« on: 05/06/2009 14:15:59 »
British scientists are using pictures of penguin poo from high-powered satellites to locate emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica.

The scientists track the penguin's waste because the penguins themselves are hard to distinguish on the sea ice, as their coloring blends into the shadows. Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) came up with the poop-spotting method, as the waste shows up easily in the pictures from space, staining the ice a reddish-brown, according to a statement from the BAS.

Knowing the location of the penguins helps provide a baseline for monitoring their response to environmental change. The study, published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, used satellite images to survey 90 percent of the sea ice around Antarctica's coast to locate emperor penguin colonies. Thirty-eight colonies were found, ten, which were new, six had relocated and six previously known colonies were not found.

"We can't see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn't good enough," BAS mapping expert Peter Pretwell explained in the statement. "But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months. The ice gets pretty dirty, and it's the guano stains that we can see."

Estimates put the total number of penguins at somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 breeding pairs.

"This is a very exciting development. Now we know exactly where the penguins are, the next step will be to count each colony so we can get a much better picture of population size," BAS penguin ecologist Phil Trathan said in the statement. "Using satellite images combined with counts of penguin numbers puts us in a much better position to monitor future population changes over time."