BBC: Satellites find new colonies of Emperor penguins in Antarctica – ‘It’s good news because there are now more penguins than we thought’

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

Satellite observations have found a raft of new Emperor penguin breeding sites in the Antarctic.

The locations were identified from the way the birds’ poo, or guano, had stained large patches of sea-ice.

The discovery lifts the global Emperor population by 5-10%, to perhaps as many as 278,500 breeding pairs.

It’s a welcome development given that this iconic species is likely to come under severe pressure this century as the White Continent warms.

The Emperors’ whole life cycle is centred around the availability of sea-ice, and if this is diminished in the decades ahead – as the climate models project – then the animals’ numbers will be hit hard.

One forecast suggested the global population could crash by a half or more under certain conditions come 2100.

The satellites’ infrared imagery threw up eight such breeding sites and confirmed the existence of three others that had been mooted in the era before high-resolution space pictures.

The new identifications take the number of known active breeding sites from 50 to 61. Two of the new locations are in the Antarctic Peninsula region, three are in the West of the continent and six in the East.

“It’s good news because there are now more penguins than we thought,” said BAS remote-sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell.