‘You Can See Almost Everything.’ Antarctica Just Became the Best-Mapped Continent on Earth
Antarctica might not be the hottest tourist destination, but for anyone who does visit, scientists now have an incredibly high-resolution map of the white tundra. According to the scientists at Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota who published the imagery, Antarctica is now the best-mapped continent on Earth.
The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA) was assembled using hundreds of thousands of satellite images taken by satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe between 2009 and 2017, Earther reports. A supercomputer assembled the massive amounts of data, including the elevation of the land over time, and created REMA, an immensely detailed topographical map, with a file size over 150 terabytes.
The new map has a resolution of 2 to 8 meters, compared to the usual 1,000 meters, says an Ohio State press release. According to The New York Times, the detail of this new map is the equivalent of being able to see down to a car, or smaller, when before you could only see the whole of Central Park. Scientists now know the elevation of every point of Antarctica, with an error margin of just a few feet.
“Up until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica,” said Ohio State University glaciologist Ian Howat, head of the REMA project, in a press release. “At this resolution, you can see almost everything. 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.”
The map will be a vital instrument for research projects, providing data on snow cover, the motion of ice, thinning glaciers, and river and volcano activity. Scientists will better be able to monitor the effects of climate change, and it’ll be easier for researchers to plan field expeditions.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that scientists from Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota created the satellite imagery used for the map. In fact, DigitalGlobe provided the imagery.