International Programs

Advanced Remote Sensing Techniques for Studying the Breeding Habitat Changes of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica

Long-term population change in Emperor penguins is forced in part by the interactions between the landscape in which breeding colonies are located and changing patterns of ice buildup resulting from regional climate change.

Research and development of the methodology and baseline information from high-resolution orbital sensor data may permit the enumeration of breeding birds without intrusive ground surveys. The goal of this research is to advance remote sensing and photogrammetric techniques and develop methodology for the enumeration of Emperor penguins from high-resolution satellite images in collaboration with of Dr. Gerald Kooyman, SCRIPPS, UCSD.

USGS Open-file Report 04-094 was published in April 2004 in fulfillment of the USGS/NSF Work Plan Agreement. The findings of this study show that the spatial data collection assets of the commercial and government satellites may not meet all the stringent positional accuracy and resolution requirements for mapping penguin populations, especially, Emperor "huddles" during the winter months. Satellite images of these huddles in July and early August were not obtainable due to the lack of or low sunlight. In addition, sufficient geodetic ground control data was not available for developing digital terrain elevation data, orthorectified imagery, and numerical models for population counts. Consequently, the development of an automated method for counting Emperors in huddles was aborted and an alternative approach chosen employing GIS point entry and retrieval of data from October and September satellite images of disbanded huddles.

In the future, acquiring essential geodetic control data without intrusive ground surveys may have to come from low-altitude aerial photography, in particular, airborne integrated digital mapping GPS/Inertial systems for direct geopositioning. However, this study does demonstrate the prospects of the USGS National Civil Application Program (NCAP) resources for long-term archiving and environmental monitoring of habitat change. The potential benefits of adding NCAP data to the mapping of wildlife habitats in Antarctica are far reaching, which include continuous year-round coverage plus the added option of access to the Global Fiducial Program (GFP). The GFP’s fiducial imagery can be accessed remotely by authorized scientists via an intuitive Web-like interface.