There are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than was previously thought, according to a new study released today by an international team of researchers using high-resolution satellite mapping technology. This first-ever count of an entire species from space provides an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this iconic bird.
Scientists from the University of Minnesota Polar Geospatial Center co-authored the research with partners from the British Antarctic Survey. The research is published today in the journal PLoS ONE. In the journal, the scientists describe how they used Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images to estimate the number of penguins at each colony around the coastline of Antarctica. Using a technique known as pan-sharpening to increase the resolution of the satellite imagery, the science teams were able to differentiate between birds, ice, shadow and penguin poo (guano).
They then used ground counts and aerial photography to calibrate the analysis. These birds breed in areas that are very difficult to study because they are remote and often inaccessible with temperatures as low as -58°F (-50°C).
Lead author and geographer Peter Fretwell at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which is funded by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council, said the research findings are groundbreaking.
"We are delighted to be able to locate and identify such a large number of emperor penguins," Fretwell said. "We counted 595,000 birds, which is almost double the previous estimates of 270,000 to 350,000 birds. This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space."
On the ice, emperor penguins with their black and white plumage stand out against the snow and colonies are clearly visible on satellite imagery. This allowed the team to analyze 44 emperor penguin colonies around the coast of Antarctica, with seven previously unknown.
"The methods we used are an enormous step forward in Antarctic ecology because we can conduct research safely and efficiently with little environmental impact, and determine estimates of an entire penguin population," said co-author Michelle LaRue from the University of Minnesota Polar Geospatial Center, which is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and is part of the university's College of Science and Engineering.
"The implications of this study are far-reaching," LaRue added. "We now have a cost-effective way to apply our methods to other poorly-understood species in the Antarctic, to strengthen on-going field research, and to provide accurate information for international conservation efforts."
BAS biologist Phil Trathan and co-author of the study noted the impact this research could have on the changing environment.
"Current research suggests that emperor penguin colonies will be seriously affected by climate change," Trathan said. "An accurate continent-wide census that can be easily repeated on a regular basis will help us monitor more accurately the impacts of future change on this iconic species."
Scientists are concerned that in some regions of Antarctica, earlier spring warming is leading to loss of sea ice habitat for emperor penguins, making their northerly colonies more vulnerable to further climate change.
"Whilst current research leads us to expect important declines in the number of emperor penguins over the next century, the effects of warming around Antarctica are regional and uneven," Trathan said. "In the future we anticipate that the more southerly colonies should remain, making these important sites for further research and protection."
This research is a collaboration between British Antarctic Survey, University of Minnesota/National Science Foundation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Australian Antarctic Division.
To read the entire research paper in the PLoS ONE journal, visit http://z.umn.edu/penguin12.
Watch a video of Michelle LaRue discussing the research: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_videos.jsp?cntn_id=123854&media_id=72238&org=NSF
Michelle LaRue bio: http://www.agic.umn.edu/people/larue
U of M Polar Geospatial Center: http://www.agic.umn.edu/
Feature story: 'The emperor's new close-up': http://www1.umn.edu/news/features/2012/UR_CONTENT_381718.html
Department of Earth Sciences: http://www.geo.umn.edu/
Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology: http://fwcb.cfans.umn.edu/
Matt Hodson | EurekAlert!
How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences