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NASA: Best Maps for That Antarctic Vacation?
Planning a vacation in Antarctica? Not that anyone does vacation there, but scientists love to explore the frozen continent. Now, thanks to satellites, NASA has the best maps to help researchers get around the huge land of ice and snow.

Still from animation of the Ross Ice Shelf Image to right: Ross Ice Shelf: Click on image to view animation (no audio - 6.5 Mb). This movie shows detailed topographic features on the Antarctic Ross Ice Shelf, using both Mosaic Of Antarctica (MOA) and ICESat Digital Elevation Model data. + View Ross Ice Shelf without ICESat elevation information.Credit: NASA

These maps provide the most detailed look at surface features on the snow-covered continent. Greater detail on those features provides clues to how and why the continent's massive ice sheets and glaciers are changing.

Researchers can now figure out the history of ice movements in the just-released map called the "Mosaic of Antarctica." The mosaic uses images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer onboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The map is the result of a partnership between NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colo. and the University of New Hampshire, Durham.

Still from animation of Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier. Image to left: Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier: Click on image to view animation (no audio - 14 Mb). This movie shows detailed topographic features on the Antarctic Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier, using both Mosaic Of Antarctica (MOA) and ICESat Digital Elevation Model data. + View Pine Island without ICESat elevation information. Credit: NASA

A second map to be released early next year will provide the most complete and accurate images of the surface features of Antarctica. It will show positions and elevations of land features like the height and width of a glacier. NASA's ICESat satellite has an instrument that will be taking over 65 million images over the continent. All of those images will then be put together at NASA Goddard to create one complete picture or mosaic of Antarctica.

Robert Bindschadler, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory said that the Antarctic Mosaic shows a lot of very slight changes in the slope of the ground that you cannot see from standing on it. "These small changes are important because they tell us the direction the ice is flowing now and they indicate where it has gone in the past," he said. The roughness of the surface also tells scientists about the ground underneath the ice and whether the ice is sliding over it or is frozen to it.

Bindschadler predicts the map will very likely reveal unseen features and new opportunities for exploration. "Antarctica is a big place, and there is still an awful lot of the ice sheet that hasn't been explored." The new map will be used by researchers to identify interesting areas and plan expeditions to investigate them.

"This is the most accurate elevation map of the ice sheet ever produced,” says Jay Zwally, ICESat Project Scientist at NASA Goddard. "The map gets even better as the ICESat satellite continues to get more images of the frozen continent."

Related Sites:

+ More images
+ NSIDC's web site
+ Earth Observatory's Mosaic of Antarctica

Rob Gutro
Goddard Space Flight Center