Scientists p-p-pick out penguins from space for new head count
Michael McCarthy, formerly the Independent’s longstanding Environment Editor, now its Environment Columnist, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has won a string of awards for his work, including Environment Journalist of the Year (three times) and Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the RSPB for “Outstanding Services to Conservation,” in 2010 he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and in 2011 the Dilys Breeze Medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. In 2009 McCarthy published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain’s declining migrant birds.
Saturday 14 April 2012
Emperor penguins, lots and lots of them – and now we know just how many. Antarctica contains more than half a million – nearly double the number previously thought, a satellite survey has revealed. In the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space, high-resolution photos of 44 colonies around the Antarctic continent showed there were 595,000 birds – the previous estimate was 350,000.
Emperor penguins, pictured near the Halley Research Station, and seen from satellites breed in areas which have been hitherto very difficult to study because they are remote and often inaccessible with temperatures as low as -50°C (-58F). But the 4ft penguins, with black and white plumage, stand out against the ice and snow and colonies are visible on satellite imagery.
Scientists led by British Antartic Survey described in the journal PLoS ONE this week the "pan-sharpening" technique they used to boost image resolution to differentiate between birds and ice. Dr Phil Trathan at BAS said: "An accurate census that can be easily repeated will help us monitor more accurately the impacts of future change on this species."
Photographs by British Antarctic Survey
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