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.

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

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...

MORE DOSSIERS

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...

Water

Glacial melt is increasing  land instability in mountainous regions, with huge tsunamis…

Mapping

A large-scale terrain mapping project makes Antarctica the best-mapped continent…

Water

New research reveals that microplastics can survive in mosquitos from…

Cities

New research measures the ability of major cities to re-use…

Deserts

Biosphere 2 was one of the most ambitious experiments in…

Forests

High-quality, affordable drones can revolutionise the way that landscape and…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the impact of volcanoes on nearby human…

Mapping

A volunteer-led digital mapping project is at the heart of…

Cities

As the planet urbanises, attention is turning towards the most…

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…