One cool thing: satellite poop images help scientists monitor Adélie penguin diets

What’s the best way to track remote colonies of Adélie penguins and figure out what they’re eating? Monitor their poop using satellites. Landsat satellite images have been used to monitor the Earth since 1970 and while they have been able to tell scientists how many penguins make up a colony by tracking the size of penguin poop stains, new research is using the images to track what the penguins are eating.

Adélie penguins’ poop color is determined by what they eat and the level of caratenoids in their diet. As Science News for Students explained, Casey Youngflesh, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut collected penguin poop samples in Antarctica and ran them through a spectrometer and measured nitrogen-15 levels to get a baseline of how various penguin foods affected the color of their poop. Youngflesh used math to translate the detailed spectrometer data to the less-detailed data in the Landsat photos. Afterward, each pixel depicting poop on a Landsat image could be linked to the dominant item on the penguin menu: fish or krill.

Adélie penguins in West Antarctica tend to eat more krill. Those in East Antarctica eat more fish. Youngflesh shared his findings on December 12, 2018, at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in Washington, D.C.

Up Next

Record-breaking Year for Manatee Deaths

Record-breaking Year for Manatee Deaths

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Almost 1,000 of Florida’s manatees have died as of Oct.1 this year, setting a tragic record for the most deaths in a year, with two months left to go. Deaths were largely caused by starvation — the predator-less sea cows typically spend hours a day eating seagrass, but declining […]

Continue Reading 357 words
One Cool Thing: Where’s Walrus?

One Cool Thing: Where’s Walrus?

Do you have a good eye? Are you surprisingly good at Where’s Waldo and like Walruses? If so, we have great opportunity for you! The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is seeking volunteers to help count Atlantic walruses…from space.   Sea ice is retreating fast as global temperatures rise, forcing walruses to crowd on smaller floes […]

Continue Reading 174 words
China Pledges $230 Million to Protect Biodiversity

China Pledges $230 Million to Protect Biodiversity

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer At a UN conference in Kunming, China, President Xi Jinping set aside $230 million to form a fund that preserves biodiversity in developing countries. This announcement was made at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity talks (COP15) which are dedicated to preserving delicate ecosystems and preventing plants and animals […]

Continue Reading 315 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.