How do Scientists count Penguins from Space?

Gentoo Penguins nesting in Antarctica - credit CIA.gov PD

(Best Syndication News) - Scientists did not want to have to go to the lengths of enduring bitter -58 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures to get up close to count the number of emperor penguins inhabiting Antarctica. The good news is that scientists, for the first time ever, used Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images, along with some ground counts and aerial photography, to find out that the population of penguins have almost doubled from previous estimates. The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE today.

Scientists from University of Minnesota Polar Geospatial Center co-authored the research with partners from the British Antarctic Survey. The way they got the satellite images to be precise enough was in using a technique called pan-sharpening, which increases the resolution of the images. This helped them to determine the difference of a penguin versus a rock. To cross-reference their satellite penguin count the scientists also used ground counts and aerial photography.

Peter Fretwell at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said that they counted 595,000 penguins. This is almost double the amount of previous counts of 270,000 to 350,000 birds.

The scientists were counting the penguin population because of concerns of how global warming and the effects of earlier warmer weather in the spring in some parts of Antarctica were having on the birds.

By: Julie Marcus
Science and Technology Reporter

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