(ORDO NEWS) — British researchers discovered 11 colonies of emperor penguins in the polar regions of Antarctica, the existence of which scientists had not previously suspected. As a result, their total number increased by 20% to 60, the British Antarctic Society (BAS) press service said Wednesday.
“This is a startling discovery. New imagery of the Antarctic coastline has helped us find these unknown bird colonies. While this is great news, it must be understood that these colonies are all relatively small in size. Their discovery increased the population size by only 5-10%, to level of about 500 thousand penguins, “- said Peter Fretwell (Peter Fretwell), a researcher at the BAS, whose words are quoted by the press service of the society.
The Arctic and Antarctic, along with mountain glaciers, remain some of the most vulnerable regions in the world to global warming. In recent years, the average annual temperatures on their territory have already increased by six to seven degrees. Further melting of their ice, as the calculations of climatologists show, will lead to serious changes in the cycle of currents and to irreversible changes in the climate of the entire planet.
These processes, as Russian and foreign scientists have recently found out, will lead to a mass of dangerous rearrangements in the work of the Polar region ecosystems. In particular, ecologists from Moscow State University found that global warming is forcing Arctic predators to steal bird eggs and ravage their colonies twice as often, and summer torrential rains in some regions of Antarctica led to the mass death of chicks of many penguin species.
For this reason, ecologists now speculate that the abundance of most of these birds, including the emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), could decline sharply in the next few decades, with the most vulnerable species of birds potentially disappearing by the middle or end of the century.
Such fears prompted specialists from the British Antarctic Society to begin a detailed study of the emperor penguin population and constant observations of the state of these birds 10 years ago. To do this, scientists began to study photographs of the coast of the Antarctic islands and mainland Antarctica, studying all the colonies of these birds and counting the approximate number of penguin couples.
Fretwell and his colleagues recently gained access to images from a pair of European probes from the Sentinel-2 mission. They are equipped with cameras capable of taking photographs of the Earth’s surface with a resolution of several tens of meters. Their analysis helped geographers and biologists discover 11 colonies at once on coastal glaciers off the coast of Antarctica and on different Antarctic islands, which appeared recently or unnoticed during the past “censuses” of emperor penguins.
Some of these colonies, much to the surprise of the researchers, were located 180 km from the ocean. As scientists assume, they arose as a result of the fact that the iceberg on which the birds lived was nailed to the coast of Antarctica and got stuck there. As a result, it was frozen into winter ice deposits, which caused the penguins to be at a great distance from the water. Why the penguins did not abandon them, scientists have yet to find out.
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