Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey are using novel landmarks to track penguin populations in Antarctica. Using satellite imagery, BAS scientists are able to find the flightless birds breeding colonies by first finding the massive feces stained fields that accompany them. Despite documentary films depicting the penguins lifestyle and overwhelming cuteness, the birds breeding colonies remain hard to find and little researched.

But by following the reddish brown guano trails from space, scientists can finally get a accurate count of just how many penguins make up the emperor penguin breeding colonies and more realistically monitor changes to these populations. The first numbers, although astonishingly preliminary and general, are already in, with ten new colonies discovered by the new mapping procedure. Unfortunately for fans of nature’s most adorable seabird, six existing colonies, all of which were found on the same latitude, have seemingly vanished, hinting at trouble for the birds future.

For more on what’s new with maps and all things mapping related, visit a friend of mine who knows the subject pretty much infinitely better than I do.

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