The scientists compiled billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites and used them to strip out the effects of cloud cover, solar glare and land features, which were masking the glaciers. They then pieced together the shape and velocity of the continent’s glacial formations.
The resulting map revealed the presence of a new ridge that divides the 14 million-square-kilometre landmass from east to west. The team also found evidence of unnamed formations that move up to 244 metres a year across plains that slope toward the Antarctic Ocean in a manner that doesn’t fit with current models of ice migration.
‘This is like seeing a map of all the oceans’ currents for the first time. It’s a game changer for glaciology,’ said the study’s lead author, Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine.
‘The map points out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by slipping along the ground it rests on,’ said NASA’s Thomas Wagner. ‘That’s critical knowledge for predicting future sea level rise. It means that if we lose ice at the coasts from the warming ocean, we open the tap to massive amounts of ice in the interior.’