Eyes Spy Penguins from Space

If the success of 2005′s March of the Penguins is any indication, a lot of people love penguins. And now there’s great news for the penguin lovers of the world.

By using satellite imagery, zoological researchers have discovered that the Antarctic Emperor Penguin population is in much better shape than originally thought. What they’ve concluded is that the Emperor Penguin population is actually twice the size of previous estimates.

Imaging Techniques

So how did these researchers pick out animals as small as penguins from satellite images? The secret to their success was a satellite imaging technique called pan sharpening that makes it possible to create detailed color images from a satellite’s camera.

Credit: Shutterstock.com/ComputerEarth

Pan sharpening, which is used by a number of map applications, including “Google Earth,” combines a low-resolution color image with a high-resolution spacial image to enhance the clarity of the feed from the satellite. The lo-res color images provide the coloring detail for the image while the hi-res spacial images captured from the satellite specify the spacial details of the shapes. The resulting image is a high-definition, full-color picture that allows scientists and researchers to accurately distinguish between very small items.

As national geographic reports, the pan-sharpened images were so detailed that the researchers were able to easily see the difference between dark objects, such as rocks, penguin poop, and the actual penguins of course. It turns out there are actually some 595,000 Emperor Penguins, as opposed to earlier estimates of around 270,000. The images also allowed the team to locate seven previously undiscovered penguin colonies, bringing the total number of colonies to 44.

The successful use of satellite imaging isn’t only good news for penguin lovers. The technology could prove an invaluable tool for researchers looking to study other hard to reach animal populations. The enhanced imagery from satellites allows researchers to not only accurately count animals, but to better understand how climate change and human encroachment on natural habitats affect the populations.

In the meantime, with so many more penguins around than we thought, perhaps it’s time for a March of the Penguins sequel. Maybe March of  the Penguins 2: The Birds Strike Back? We’ll keep thinking…

Jason Taetsch is a freelance content writer with experience in tech writing, blogs, travel writing, pop culture and a range of promotional materials. Jason blogs via Contently.com.

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