Design and implementation of remote-operated observatories for long-term monitoring of penguin behavior and population dynamics

Daniel.Zitterbart [ at ]


Despite the enormous popularity of penguins, their social behaviour remains poorly understood. Video recordings of penguins and penguin colonies are sporadic, of insufficient resolution and duration, and suffer from camera movements that may be artistically motivated but make them scientifically worthless. Recordings of penguin colonies during the winter months are particularly short in supply. Here we present three different observatories that are able to automatically take time-lapse recording over prolonged time periods under harsh climatic conditions. i) The microbs is a very low cost observatory (~700 US$), capable of recording high-resolution (12 MPix) time-lapse data. It features a water-proof Canon D10 consumer-grade camera that we programmed through a bootable SD-card. The camera is powered by a 40 W solar panel and a 100 Ah 12V battery. The microbs can record up to 32 GB of data (approximately one month at a rate of 1 image/min) before the memory card has to be changed manually. ii) To enable even longer observations at very remote locations where a regular change of the SD-card is not feasible, we designed the Mobile Emperor Penguin Observatory (MEPO). It is equipped with a night vision (b/w) and daylight (color) CCD-sensor. Images are recorded on a solid-state PC with very low energy consumption, or they can be sent via satellite (Inmarsat) that is available on large parts of the Antarctic coast. The observatory is remote-operated through the satellite link to adjust parameters such as image frame rate, to select the images to be sent via satellite or to power the observatory up or down. iii) The Single Penguin Observation & Tracking (SPOT) observatory is used to track the movements of individual penguins over prolonged time periods and count the present number of individual penguins. The observatory consists of a wide-angle (45°) camera and a high-speed (5 images/s) high resolution (11 MPix) camera equipped with a telephoto lens (400-600mm). We are currently deploying three microbs, one MEPO and one SPOT observatory during the Antarctic summer 2011 at Crozet Island, Adelie Land and Atka Bay, respectively, and will present first results.

Item Type
Conference (Poster)
Publication Status
Event Details
From Knowledge to Action - IPY2012, 22 Apr 2012 - 24 Apr 2012, Montreal.
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Cite as
Richter, S. , Zitterbart, D. P. , Schneider, W. , Sollner, E. and Fabry, B. (2012): Design and implementation of remote-operated observatories for long-term monitoring of penguin behavior and population dynamics , From Knowledge to Action - IPY2012, Montreal, 22 April 2012 - 24 April 2012 .

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