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A Less Invasive, More Accurate Way to Survey Penguin Colonies

  • Principal Investigator(s): David Ainley, H. T. Harvey & Associates; Grant Ballard and Annie Schmidt, Point Blue Conservation Science
  • UNAVCO Engineer(s): Annie Zaino and Keith Williams
  • Dates: January 10-15, 2019
  • Location: Cape Crozier and Cape Royds Adélie penguin colonies, Ross Island, Antarctica
  • Funding Source: NSF-PLR Antarctic
  • Proposal Name: A Full Lifecycle Approach to Understanding Adélie Penguin Response to Changing Pack Ice Conditions in the Ross Sea
  • Proposal Number: 1543541

Written by Keith Williams
26 January 2019

Unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) show promise for accurately surveying penguin populations in Antarctica. Two UNAVCO-supported UAS surveys of Adélie penguins this season (2018-19) will lend insight into penguin nesting habits. The first took place in early December 2018 with a key goal of counting the nesting adults. The second was timed with the chick counts in January to compare results from the aerial photos to the counts made on the ground. Visual tallies of chicks at Cape Royds is fairly simple, with approximately 3000 pairs of adults. However, the Cape Crozier colony is much larger, with nearly 300,000 pairs of adults and a total of around 1,000,000 adults and chicks. This size makes the on-the-ground census quite cumbersome, and is somewhat intrusive as researchers must walk through the colonies to complete the counts. A UAS can survey the entire Royds colony in about 30 minutes and the Crozier colony in one to two days, creating a permanent photographic record of the region with high enough resolution to count the individual penguins as well as easily distinguish between adults and chicks.

Using structure from motion (SfM), overlapping photos taken by the UAS can be stitched together to produce point clouds, digital elevation models (DEMs), meshes (textured and untextured), and orthomosaics. Orthomosaics coupled with DEMs will aid in understanding where the Adélies prefer to place their nesting sites. Information that can be gathered includes the prevalence of small stones for nest building, location and distance to water entry, ground slope, slope aspect, population density, and snow/ice proximity.

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Ross Island, Antarctica


Last modified: 2020-01-28  22:54:06  America/Denver