Faces of Antarctica
02.27.08
A collage of icy images in the shape of the continent of Antarctica

The International Polar Year is a two-year event that focuses science and education on Earth's remote polar regions. Image Credit: NASA

On the face of it, Antarctica seems to be an empty, icy desert. But there's more than meets the eye to the continent's icy cover. The Antarctic ice sheet holds about 70 percent of Earth's fresh water and is intricately connected with the rest of the world. The sheet thins when Earth's climate warms and thickens when the climate cools. As the ice depth changes, global ocean levels change too. If all of Antarctica's ice were to melt, oceans would rise by 50 to 60 meters, or about 200 feet, submerging the coastlines of many countries.

Faces of Antarctica, a Web site developed by NASA, gives a unique glimpse of the continent's icy landscape to scientists and students alike. The site is designed around the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica, or LIMA, a high-resolution map that American and British scientists, among others, are using to study the continent.

Researchers at NASA, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey compiled more than 1,000 images taken by the Landsat 7 satellite, launched in 1999, to create LIMA. The result is the first-ever true-color bird's-eye view of the continent, showing all its frozen features.

LIMA is an important tool for scientists. Many aspects of the continent's most abundant feature, ice, are still a mystery to researchers. Antarctic ice is dynamic, flowing as giant glaciers, floating on the ocean as ice shelves and melting into the ocean. These changes are very slow and cover vast areas, so they are hard for scientists to observe while standing on the ice. LIMA provides scientists the big-picture view they need to study the changing ice.

At the same time, Faces of Antarctica allows anyone to explore the continent as never before. In addition to browsing the full LIMA mosaic, Web site visitors can search for and zoom in on geographical features including caves, glaciers and plains. Also featured are videos of ice shelves and glaciers, a fly-over video of the McMurdo area of Antarctica (where the American science and research base is located), and detailed information and fact sheets on Antarctic geography.

The site has many useful resources for educators who are interested in teaching students about the polar continent. Much of the content is devoted to describing how scientists analyze ice patterns and features such as crevasses to study changes in the ice. Videos of NASA scientists and images from LIMA support the educational content. "Antarctic Mysteries" is an interactive game in which students try to guess geographical features shown in satellite images. Links to other educational resources are posted in the "Library" section of the site.

NASA launched Faces of Antarctica as part of the International Polar Year and plans to update it over the next two years.

Related Resources
NASA LIMA Web Site   →
NASA and the International Polar Year
The Landsat Program   →

Prachi Patel-Predd/IGES