NASA Reveals the First Complete Map of Antarctic Ice Flows (Video)


Image via video screengrab

NASA has released a map of Antarctica's complete ice flow. It is the first of its kind to show the speed and direction of ice flow on the continent, with glaciers flowing from the center out to the coast. NASA's map is not only fascinating to watch, but also will be important for tracking future sea-level rise due to climate change, according to a press release.

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

The map was created by combining literally billions of data points from satellites. The team eliminated cloud cover, solar glare and land features so that only the glaciers were left. This was then put together like a puzzle and the result is this amazing animation -- and a few startling discoveries.

They discovered a new ridge splitting the 5.4 million-square-mile landmass from east to west. The team also found unnamed formations moving up to 800 feet annually across immense plains sloping toward the Antarctic Ocean and in a different manner than past models of ice migration.

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

Antarctica plays a huge role in global sea levels. Earlier this year, we reported that new satellite research revealed both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting more rapidly than estimated, and that the melting ice sheets are now a bigger contributor than glaciers to global sea level rise. Studying how ice forms in Antarctica -- and how it is melting -- is going to be key in understanding how a shifting climate will affect coastal communities as well as potentially change currents and temperatures in the ocean.

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Tags: Global Climate Change | Maps

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