Museum of Science and Industry

Scientists who study animals in the wild like to know just how many are actually out there, but animals don't usually sit still long enough to be easily counted. Some scientists have come up with clever ways to measure their numbers, but one team studying emperor penguins faced another predicament: their birds hang out in icy, faraway places that few humans are able to visit.

Instead of venturing out into the frigid, windswept landscapes of the Antarctic to painstakingly count the penguins, these scientists went to outer space for help with their project. By taking satellite images of the region and applying a technique known as "pansharpening," the researchers could actually count individual penguins seen from miles above the Earth! The team discovered several previously unknown colonies and ultimately concluded their total numbers are double what they thought before!

Tracking animal populations is crucial to understanding how they will respond to changes in their environment, especially those that may be linked to climate change. When faced with the challenge of how to count the animals, it often takes finding creative solutions like this to get the job done.

Image: Giusppe Zibordi/Michael Van Woert/NOAA NESDIS, ORA

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