New technology enables researchers to study penguins in real time
Satellite-enabled Instant Wild cameras send high-resolution images of Antarctic penguins to researchers so they can observe how melting sea ice affects the birds' populations.
Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 03:33 PM
Photo: Alasdair Davies/Zoological Society of London
Antarctica penguins rely on sea ice for food and breeding purposes, but as global temperatures rise, the ice is disappearing.
A 2008 World Wildlife Fund study estimates that 50 percent of emperor penguins and 75 percent of Adelie penguins could disappear in the wild if global average temperatures rise above pre-industrial levels by 2 degrees Celsius, a scenario that could be reached in 40 years.
But conservationists are working to protect these flightless birds, and they have new technology to aid their efforts.
Cambridge Consultants, a technology design firm, has developed satellite-enabled cameras — called Instant Wild — to aid the Penguin Lifelines project.
Headed by penguinologist Dr. Tom Hart, the project uses long-term field monitoring and genetic analysis of feathers to study how penguin populations change over time.
Traditional cameras that have been used to monitor Antarctic penguins store images locally, requiring researchers to travel to remote locations to retrieve data.
However, Instant Wild cameras are equipped with Raspberry Pi and are satellite-enabled, allowing them to transmit high-resolution images over the Iridium satellite network so real-time data analysis can take place.
These new cameras can also be deployed for a longer period of time than traditional cameras because they have both batteries and solar panels. The Instant Wild cameras deployed in January are expected to last about a year.
Penguin researchers will study the cameras' images to count penguins and observe when they breed and how long it takes them to raise chicks.
Hart and his colleagues will use these photos to develop a better understanding of how the timing of melting sea ice affects Antarctic penguin populations.
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