"A Game Changer" - New map of the warming world of Antarctica: "Up until now we had better maps of Mars"

Posted on September 9, 2018

"So far we had a better map of Mars than we had of Antarctica, but now it is the best-mapped continent," said Ian Howat, professor of earth sciences and director of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State University. "If you are someone who needs glasses to see, it's a bit like being almost blind and putting on glasses and seeing 20/20 for the first time."

This new high-resolution terrain map of the frozen continent of the earth will help researchers better track changes on the ice as the planet warms up. The new map has a resolution of 2 to 8 meters, compared with 1,000 meters, which was typical of previous maps.

Previous maps of the continent had a resolution that looked like seeing all of Central Park from a satellite, writes Shannon Stirone in the New York Times. With this new data it is now possible to look at the size of a car and in some areas even smaller. The data is so complete that scientists now know the height of every function on the continent up to a few feet.

Howat is the leader of the map project, called the reference altitude model of Antarctica (REMA). The map and the associated images and data will change science in Antarctica, Howat said, especially during the update.

"With this resolution you can see almost everything, we can even see variations in the snow in some places, and we will be able to measure changes in the surface of the continent over time," he said.

This is a large river of ice that flows between two mountains, the Glacier south of Dry Valley. Images such as these are free and accessible to scientists for their research. (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency)

"We will see changes in snow coverage, changes in the movement of ice, we will be able to monitor river discharge, floods and volcanoes, and we will see the thinning of glaciers."

How detailed is the map? Well, the total file size is more than 150 terabytes or 150,000 gigabytes. The map is accurate and accurate enough to allow scientific teams to plan a number of journeys across the treacherous terrain of the continent. "It changes the threshold of what you can do in the comfort of your own office compared to what you had to do in the field," he said.

The project began with images made of a constellation of satellites orbiting the earth in an orbit and averaging 10 times across Antarctic areas to make photos.

In addition to the images, the REMA project required software developed by Howat and M.J. Noh from the Byrd Center that processed the data on powerful supercomputers.

The software automated the assembly of overlapping pairs of high-resolution satellite images. "We had to start all over again to build this up: the software had to filter the data, process it and turn it into a refined product for the scientific and wider community to use," said Howat.

Other employees included the Polar Geospatial Center of the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois, which supplied the Blue Waters supercomputer that processed the images.

Ohio State was also involved in an additional project, the Arctic Digital Elevation Model, which was launched earlier this year.

The Daily Galaxy through Ohio State University and New York Times

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