Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Antarctica now the best mapped continent

  • Written by  Chris Fitch
  • Published in Mapping
Antarctica now the best mapped continent
01 Nov
2018
A large-scale terrain mapping project makes Antarctica the best-mapped continent on Earth 

Perhaps unbelievably, it’s still less than 200 years since the continent of Antarctica, first sighted in 1820, was finally confirmed to exist. Even into the 21st century, detailed knowledge about the interior of the vast frozen landmass was hard to come by. Almost overnight, this situation has entirely changed. Extreme close-up satellite imagery and dedicated computer power has now made Antarctica visible in an extraordinary amount of detail, with around 98 per cent of the continent having been mapped.

‘It is the highest-resolution terrain map by far of any continent,’ says Ian Howat, professor of earth sciences at The Ohio State University. ‘Up until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica. Today, Antarctica is the best-mapped continent.’

By stitching together photographs taken from a network of polar-orbiting satellites that passed over Antarctica an average of ten times each – primarily during 2015 and 2016 – the icy surface is now visible at a resolution of either two or eight metres – a significant improvement to the mere 1,000 metre resolution that was available on most previous maps.

‘At this resolution, you can see almost everything,’ continues Howat, leader of the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA) project, the masterminds behind this new mapping project. ‘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 complete maps are open-source and as such have been released online for anyone to download. Be warned though, with such detail spanning an entire continent, the total file collection is more than 150 terabytes (or approximately 150,000 gigabytes) in size.

This was published in the November 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Places

Bisecting Georgia's northwestern region, the Enguri River has come to…

Forests

A study in Northern Minnesota is experimentally heating the air…

Places

Some of the quirkiest geopolitical oddities are  Europe’s semi-independent microstates (SIMs). Vitali…

Places

Ninety years after depopulation, the Scottish islands of St Kilda…

Mapping

Not all passports are created equal

Forests

The impacts of deforestation are wide ranging. But while some…

Places

Community trekking is the latest development to emerge from the…

Cities

Scientists are using sophisticated data modelling to predict how cities…

Places

The most populated country of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has been…

Forests

To protect the forests that act as natural carbon reservoirs,…

Forests

Recent research finds that climate change-induced drought is having a…

Cities

The city of Calais struggles with its reputation. More often…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig and Tina Gotthardt map the coronavirus

Water

The controversial practice of cloud-seeding has always been difficult to…

Forests

The impact of wildfires on water supplies has received little…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps the two sides of global malnutrition –…

Cities

Thomas Bird reports on the coronavirus, speaking to those trapped…

Forests

The world’s second largest tropical forest receives significantly less funding…

Cities

The world’s first water-borne dairy farm has been erected on…

Cities

Continental Europe’s most extensive underground rail transport network, the Madrid…