Satellites have captured images of previously undiscovered colonies of emperor penguins in the Antarctic. The discovery raises the number of known extant colonies and may give scientists more insight into their migratory patterns.

Emperor penguins are a “near threatened” species indigenous to Antarctica known to breed exclusively on sea ice. Scientists estimate a total population of about 595,000 of the birds, according to Cool Antarctic.

A study published by Cambridge University on January 24 details the discovery of four new emperor colonies using the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite and Maxar WorldView-2 imagery. This discovery follows another in 2019 when scientists discovered eight previously unreported emperor penguin breeding sites.

The first of the four colonies, a “small” one, was found on the northern side of the Lazarev Ice Shelf, the second on the Verleger Point on the coast of Marie Byrd Land, the third near the eastern side of the West Ice Shelf, and an “extremely small” colony was discovered near the northern side of the Gipps Ice Rise. Scientists believe that changes in topography brought the last colony into view.

“The calving of a large berg in 2021 changed the ice-shelf topography, destroying the ice creek and forcing the colony out onto the open fast ice. This has helped with the discovery of this breeding site,” read the study. “The site is often cloudy, and few recent VHR images exist in the archive, but a count using Maxar WorldView-2 imagery from October 2016 suggests ~200 pairs.”

The discovery has raised the global population estimate by 5700 pairs and the total number of extant breeding locations to 66. Researchers, however, describe the contribution to the overall population as “minimal.”

“It is difficult to assess whether any more colony locations will be found. Few if any of the significant gaps noted in the distribution now remain,” read the study. “But as the resolution of satellites becomes greater, it may be that some very small, unreported breeding aggregations may still be found that have been missed by coarser imagery.”