Antarctic scientists need your help to learn about the effects of climate change. Your mission brief: count fluffy penguins via the Internet.
The name of this UK-based citizen science project is Penguin Watch 2.0, and its aim is to create a census of the penguin population using 75 cameras placed all over Antarctica and its surrounding islands.
There has been an ongoing general census of penguins in Antarctica since 1994. Scientists have already collected data that has helped explain the link between declining numbers of Adélie and Chinstrap penguins with climate change. However, the census still has some gaps in its data, so a team of researchers from Oxford University's Penguin Lifelines project are asking you to help.
Their work has involved taking automated photographs of numerous areas every hour. With 75 cameras, these images have built up. So, to get through their backlog of work, they are looking to the public to help count and identify the many different species of penguins, including Adélie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, King, and Rockhopper penguins. On top of this, they need to record the number of adults, chicks, and eggs.
A map showing some of the camera locations and penguin populations. Penguin Watch 2.0
Speaking to the BBC, lead researcher Dr. Tom Hart said: “We can't do this work on our own, and every penguin that people click on and count on the website – that's all information that tells us what's happening at each nest, and what's happening over time.”
It's not just for fun, though; the project has some important implications. With their findings, the researchers hope to detail the effects of climate change by analyzing data on timing of breeding, survival rate of chicks, and rate of predation on chicks.
But this information won’t just help the penguins. They explain on the website: "As top predators, penguins are considered sentinels of changes within their ecosystem. Because penguins spend the majority of their life in water and fall at the top of the food chain, any variations in their populations may represent larger changes to the dynamic Antarctic ecosystem."
Anybody can help simply by clicking on the Penguin Watch 2.0 website, and the researchers are particularly enthusiastic for children and schools to get involved.