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Satellites track Antarctica

Longmont, USA, October 30, 2007: DigitalGlobe, provider of high-resolution imagery and geospatial information products, continues its contribution to conservation programs worldwide. Currently, its imagery is playing a key role in the research and protection of Antarctic penguin habitats led by Gerald Kooyman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. Kooyman, a distinguished research professor at the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, is a leading authority on the emperor penguin, having researched its populations and behaviours in Antarctica for more than 20 years. Kooyman’s research was recently featured in a video news piece on the Discovery News Web site highlighting his use of DigitalGlobe’s satellite imagery in his work.

Kooyman’s work in tracking penguin populations is subject to the Antarctic weather, leaving only a two month window, between mid-October and late December, for field research. The remoteness of the penguin colonies makes research nearly impossible, with two locations inaccessible to the research teams. Until recently, these difficulties have made tracking the birds extremely challenging. Now, with the aid of DigitalGlobe’s high-resolution satellite imagery, Kooyman and his team can collect photographs during October and November, the last two months of the chick-nurturing period. The images are then used to determine the distribution and abundance of adults in the colony and ultimately provide an estimate of how many chicks were produced in the colony, the sea ice conditions of the colony, and the distribution of the colony in relation to local sea ice conditions.

Researchers such as Kooyman have discovered that satellite imagery is a cost-effective and efficient route in obtaining annual records on the penguin populations. For the last two years, satellite imagery has served as supporting material to the team’s field research, and Kooyman expects imagery to help replace many field research excursions, which can be extremely time consuming and costly.

“It’s all a work in progress, but the beauty of satellite imagery is that it is hard data and will be there forever,” said Kooyman. “Years from now, we will be able to look back at the archived imagery and draw better conclusions about the birds and the changes in their natural environment from the research. What we do now is important and, like art, just gets more valuable over time.”

A video, produced by Discovery News reporter Kasey Dee-Gardner on how Dr. Kooyman is using the satellite imagery in his research, can be found online at dsc.discovery.com/video