Penguins’ ‘Happy Feet’ Tracked by their Poop, From Space

Adam Eisman - Contributing Writer
Posted on Sunday 7th June 2009
Despite the fact that they are not being narrated by the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman, penguins continue their journey through life, moving from one part of the Antarctic to another in a constant struggle to stay alive and raise a family. Understanding the living conditions of these penguins helps scientists see the first hand effects of a changing climate. Due to its extremity, life at the poles is changing faster than in other regions as large chucks of ice melt away, leaving inhabitants fighting for decreased resources in a shrunken ecosystem. A study performed by the British Antarctic Society has used satellites to zero in on the Antarctic coast, and what they have been able to see are the guano, or poop, stains left by the large Emperor Penguin colonies before they move on to a new region. The satellites have been used to survey around 90% of the area along the coasts and they have found 38 colonies, ten of which were new. Being that satellite resolution is not perfect, the satellite images do not allow the scientists to locate the actual penguins, but as the mating and birth period for a colony takes up to 8 months, the area gets fairly dirty before they are through. The stained ice is visible from space, and gives a little more insight into these birds’ habits. The goal of the project is to assess the number of penguins, and to gauge whether the population is in danger due to shifting climate conditions. The process of rearing a penguin is long and arduous, causing both parents to perform a lot of work. After birthing the egg, the female penguin will make the long trek to the sea to feed, while the male incubates the egg, holding it on top of his feet and under a protective layer of feathers and fat reserve, of which the male will lose roughly 45% before the egg is to hatch. At temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius, the father can keep the egg 70 degrees warmer with his own protection from the cold. As the earth warms, the regions that will be most affected are around the equator, and near the poles, as these regions see the fiercest weather the planet has to offer. With the balance of nature being thrown out of whack, these populations will soon dictate what may be to come for the rest of us.

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