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Cute critter alert: U counts penguins by satellite; surveys Serengeti via webcam

Three researchers at the University of Minnesota's Polar Geospatial Center are among a team that has just completed a first-ever census of emperor penguins based on satellite images.

Warning: MinnPost, Your Humble Blogger and the University of Minnesota researchers whose work is about to be featured are not responsible for the hours Learning Curve’s readers are about to lose enjoying the following cute critter pictures and/or sending them to friends.

Three researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Polar Geospatial Center are among a team that has just completed a first-ever census of emperor penguins based on satellite images. There’s widespread fear the Antarctic penguins might be, ahem, canaries in the global warming crisis, but scientists can’t measure the impact of climate or other environmental changes without a baseline of their numbers.

There’s a fascinating story about the project on the U of M’s website; do try to read at least a little about the project before you get lost in the photos and video taken by Michelle LaRue, a research fellow at the center and graduate student in the Conservation Biology Program.

Webcams in the Serengeti

If you don’t get fired for spending the rest of your day watching the waddling, you might also want to check out a U of M project involving webcams in Africa. Craig Packer, a world-renowned authority on lion behavior and Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Biological Sciences, last fall asked people to step up and provide small donations to help fund his research.

Packer’s team “placed approximately 200 heat-and-motion-activated cameras over a 1,000-square-mile grid of the Serengeti in order to capture very detailed images of how predatory mammals co-exist within their habitat,” according to a news release describing the effort.

The cameras take millions of images, which the scientists ferry home on flash drives. For $14,000, they could gain nearly instant access to the footage. Anyone who donates $10 or more can have real-time access to a database of the webcams’ work; larger donations net prizes ranging from lion Beanie Babies to the right to name a cub.

As of Wednesday, when I tore myself away from the wildebeest, cheetahs, penguins and other viral Internet phenoms, Serengeti Live had raised just $5,085, so there are still plenty of sponsorships available.

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