Fortunately, there are not all bad news on the thorny issue of conservation of animal species. A new study for which they have used satellite data reveals that there are twice as emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought. Not that it means that this species does not face problems, but at least it indicates that your situation is not as serious as feared.
Moreover, the results of this new research provide an important guideline to monitor the impact of environmental conditions on populations of this charismatic bird, and to be in a position to provide accurate information demanded by international conservation efforts. Before the new study, getting this kind of information was not an easy goal, especially since the emperor penguins have their breeding areas in remote areas that are very difficult to study by conventional means because they are often inaccessible and temperatures as low as 50 degrees Celsius (58 degrees Fahrenheit below zero).
The international team of scientists, which included geographer Peter Fretwell and biologist Phil Trathan, both of the BAS (British Antarctic Survey), and zoologist Michelle LaRue at the University of Minnesota in the U.S., used satellite images of high resolution to estimate the number of penguins in each colony on the coast of Antarctica.
They recorded a number of 595,000 emperor penguins, which is almost double the amount previously estimated, ranging between 270,000 and 350,000. This is the first comprehensive and detailed census of the population of a species made from space.
Emperor penguins, with black and white plumage, stand out enough against the snow, and their colonies are clearly visible in satellite images. This allowed the research team analyzed 44 colonies of emperor penguins in the Antarctic coastline, with 7 previously unknown colonies.
Ongoing research suggests that the emperor penguin colonies will be seriously affected by climate change. In fact, in some regions of Antarctica, the spring warming, more and more extended, is leading to increasing loss of sea ice, which is the habitat of emperor penguins, making its northernmost communities become more vulnerable the advance of climate change.
An accurate census across the white continent, and can easily be repeated regularly, such as this done by satellite, will help to more accurately monitor the effects of future climate change on this species.
The research, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, also helped the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, and the Australian Antarctic Division.