Tuesday, 02 Jun, 2009 Environment
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Dozens of Penguin Colonies Discovered Thanks to Poo Spotted from Space

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Researchers managed to spot dozens of breeding colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctica with the help of images taken from space, on which scientists noticed large quantities of the birds' poo.

The huge reddy-brown stains seen on the satellite pictures indicated that thousands of penguins live on the untouched White Sea ice. This means that for the first time in history scientists for the British Antarctic Survey managed to identify every penguin colony on the icy continent.

A thorough analysis of the satellite images showed 38 breeding colonies, which researchers believe are composed of 200,000 to 400,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins. Now, after finding the breeding colonies, scientists look forward to track them in order to analyze the impact of climate change that could wipe out about 95 percent of the population by the end of the century.

The study published in the Global Ecology and Biogeography journal states about 10 new colonies that recently appeared while the 6 colonies that were earlier identified changed their location.

Commenting on the discovery, Peter Fretwell, co-author of the study and geographic information officer at British Antarctic Survey said: "It was a very serendipitous discovery and a chance encounter when I realized I could see the stains. They look like reddy-brown stains on the sea ice, which is formed every year in the Antarctic winter and usually looks absolutely pristine and white."

He added that among all bird species only penguins breed on the ice. Emperor penguins are big, which is why it gets rather messy and smelly. With the help of a satellite mosaic of Antarctica, Mr. Fretwell together with his team was able to study 90 percent of the Antarctic coast.

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