August 19, 2011

First Complete Map Of Antarctica’s Ice Flow Created

NASA researchers have created the first complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica.

The space agency said the map will be critical for tracking future sea-level increases from climate change.

The researchers created the map using integrated radar observations from a consortium of international satellites.

"This is like seeing a map of all the oceans' currents for the first time. It's a game changer for glaciology," Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California (UC), Irvine, said in a press release. "We are seeing amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been described before."

The researchers used billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites to weed out cloud cover, solar glare and land features masking the glaciers.  They were able to piece together the shape and velocity of glacial formations, including the previously uncharted East Antarctica.

NASA said the scientists were surprised when they stood back and took in the full picture.  The team discovered a new ridge splitting a 5.4 million-square-mile landmass from east to west.

The space agency also said the researchers found unnamed formations moving up to 800 feet annually across immense plains sloping toward the Antarctic Ocean.

"The map points out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by slipping along the ground it rests on," Thomas Wagner, NASA's cryospheric program scientist in Washington, said in a press release. "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."

The map builds on partial charts of Antarctic ice flow created by NASA, CSA and ESA using a variety of techniques.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time that a tightly knit collaboration of civilian space agencies has worked together to create such a huge dataset of this type," Yves Crevier of CSA said in a press release. "It is a dataset of lasting scientific value in assessing the extent and rate of change in polar regions."


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