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Scientists use penguins to help track climate change

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Tracking gentoo penguin colonies from above is made easier by the contrasting color of their black feathers next to the white ice landscapes

Climatologists use a variety of methods to measure changes on Earth.

These include checking sea temperatures, extreme weather conditions and changes in vegetation across continents.

But another useful method for keeping tabs on climate change has emerged in Antarctica: tracking penguin colonies!

The team from Stony Brook University in New York, US, is tracking waddling birds to keep tabs on environmental changes near the South Pole.

“We count penguin nests to understand how many penguins are in a colony, producing chicks each year, and whether that number increases or decreases with environmental conditions,” Alex Borowicz told Reuters news agency.

Ecology researchers say penguins are easier to monitor than other animal species for many reasons.

They nest on land and their black feathers can be easily spotted against the icy white ground in satellite images.

Adelie penguinsGreenpeace/AP

Adélie penguins are recognizable by their “tuxedo-shaped” markings

Plus, penguin poop is easy to spot from afar as it’s also a contrasting color against snowy landscapes.

Surprisingly, different types of penguins also give scientists different insights into the ever-changing environment.

As the amount of sea ice has shrunk due to warming temperatures, gentoo penguins have thrived, but the same conditions aren’t as good for Adélie penguins, which rely on sea ice for breeding and food.

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A year in the life of a penguin filmed (January 2016)

“When we find Adélie penguins, we usually know that sea ice is nearby,” said fellow ecology researcher Michael Wethington.

“And every time we’ve seen sea ice decline or completely disappear, we see the corresponding Adélie penguin populations are declining dramatically.”

So not only are penguins super cute, but they also help us understand climate change!