You Can See Almost Everything: New Map of Antarctica is Highest Resolution of Any Continent on Earth

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The most accurate terrain map of Antarctica has a resolution of two to eight meters—over 100 times sharper than previous representations.

Antarctica has become the best-mapped continent on Earth with a new, high-resolution terrain map showing the ice covered landmass in unprecedented detail. The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA) map has a resolution more than 100 times sharper than previous representations.

“At this resolution, you can see almost everything,” Ian Howat, who developed the map, said in a statement. “It is the highest-resolution terrain map by far of any continent. Up until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica. Now it is the best-mapped continent.”

Highest resolution map of Antarctica ever produced. Ohio State University

Howat, a professor of earth sciences at The Ohio State University, and his team used supercomputers to process vast quantities of data—150 terabytes in total. To put that into perspective, as of 2014 the U.S. Library of Congress had around 525 terabytes of web archive data.

They started by using images taken from satellites that orbit the polar regions. Hundreds and thousands of individual models were extracted from pairs of satellite images.

The software developed by Howat and colleagues was then used to create the map. “REMA provides the first high resolution, high accuracy terrain dataset of approximately 98% of the contiguous continental landmass of Antarctica extending to 88°S,” the project website notes.

unnamed Mulock Glacier, between Byrd Glacier and the McMurdo Dry Valleys. REMA/Ohio State University

Howat said the map will be instrumental to the scientific community: “We can actually see variations in the snow in some places. We will be able to measure changes in the surface of the continent over time. We will see changes in snow cover, changes in the motion of ice, we will be able to monitor river discharge, flooding and volcanoes. We will be able to see the thinning of glaciers.”

The map has been welcomed by experts across the globe. Mark Drinkwater, head of the European Space Agency’s Earth and Mission Science Division, called it “spectacular,” while Greg Cocks, a data scientist with the USGS, said it provided a “stunning” view of the continent.

To access the full map, click here.

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