Scientists have discovered a new emperor penguin colony in Antarctica from space, using satellite-mapping technology.
The colony, which is home to 500 birds, was identified by penguin guano – poo – stains, which contrast against the stark white snow and rock.
The site at Verleger Point, West Antarctica, has been announced to mark Penguin Awareness Day.
It brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites around the coastline of the continent to 66, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
Scientists examined pictures from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission.
They compared the images to high resolution shots taken by the MAXAR WorldView3 – said to be the world’s most advanced Earth observation satellite.
Lead author of the research Dr Peter Fretwell said: “This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline have enabled us to find many new colonies.”
But he added: “Whilst this is good news, like many of the recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss.”
BAS researchers have spent the past 15 years hunting for new colonies by searching satellite images for penguin guano.
Half of the known colonies have been discovered using satellite imagery, the scientists said.
Emperor penguins, the largest of the 18 species of flightless birds, measure around 1.2m (almost 4ft).
They need sea ice to breed and are often found in icy climates with temperatures plunging to as low as -60C.
They are typically found in remote and inaccessible areas, making them notoriously difficult to study.
The species is particularly vulnerable to the loss of sea ice, which is expected to decline due to climate change.
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Recent projections suggest that 80% of colonies will be quasi-extinct – meaning the population is unsustainable – by the end of the century, the BAS has warned.
The research was paid for by science funding body, UKRI-NERC, with a contribution from conservation charity WWF, as part of the Wildlife from Space project.
Led by Dr Fretwell, the project is also employing satellite technology to track down and monitor walruses, whales, seals and albatrosses.