New Penguin Colony Discovered By Satellites, Drones and AI
A massive new Adelie penguin colony has been discovered off the coast of Antarctica on Danger Islands by a scientist duo. Heather Lynch, professor of ecology at New York’s Stony Brook University and Matthew Schwaller, an employee of NASA, managed to discover the supercolony by using satellite imaging.
The study published by the two scientists estimates that Danger Islands host more than 750,000 pairs of breeding adult Adelie penguins, which means that the islands are home to the world’s third and fourth-largest Adelie penguin colonies. This also means that Danger Islands contain more Adelie penguins than the rest of Antarctica combined.
Lynch and Schwaller were initially interested in the Danger Islands due to 2014 NASA satellite images showing large amount of guano stains, indicators of penguin droppings. The duo followed up on this initial clue by organizing a 2015 expedition of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and various British and American universities.
Using drones to capture images of the remote and rarely-visited islands, the scientists were able to estimate a total population of roughly 1.5 million Adelie penguins. The drone’s imaging system is also designed to show the entire islands’ landmass in 2D and 3D renderings. The estimation of the population is conducted with support from artificial intelligence.
The discovery of the supercolony is welcoming news for ecologists as there has been ongoing fears regarding the rapid depletion of penguin population as a result of climate change and increasing human activities near Antarctica.
A previous study conducted on 660 study sites in the Antarctic Peninsula showed that numerous species of penguins, including the Adelie penguins, displayed rapid decrease in population as a result of climate change. The region that encompasses the Antarctic Peninsula had experienced an average 5 degrees Farenheit increase in temperature over the last 60 years.
The largest Adelie penguin colony is located across the continent near the Ross Sea. This population has been under considerable strains due to climate change and depletion of fish populations as a result of overfishing.
Scientists are now more optimistic regarding the survival of the Adelie penguins as a species, but are now urging the creation of Marine Protected Areas around the Danger Islands in order to ensure the species’s future.