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New Antarctic image map to “revolutionize” research

Nov. 27, 2007
Courtesy NASA
and World Science staff

Re­search­ers have un­veiled a new, highly de­tailed map of Ant­arc­ti­ca, built from sat­el­lite im­ages, that they say will rev­o­lu­tion­ize re­search of the con­ti­nen­t’s fro­zen land­scape. 

Freely avail­a­ble at http://lima.usgs.gov, the map was cre­at­ed us­ing the NASA-built Land­sat 7 sat­el­lite. It gives a nearly cloud­less view of the con­ti­nent at 10 times great­er res­o­lu­tion than any pre­vi­ous map, sci­en­tists said.

The same Ant­arc­tic scene im­aged by dif­fer­ent sat­el­lite in­stru­ments: from the Land­sat 7 above, used in the new map; and the MO­DIS in­stru­ment on the Ter­ra and Aq­ua sat­el­lites in low­er res­o­lu­tion on the right. (Cour­te­sy NA­SA (be­low), US­GS (a­bove))


With an un­prec­e­dent­ed abil­ity to see fea­tures half the size of a bas­ket­ball court, the map of­fers the most ge­o­graph­ic­ally ac­cu­rate, true-col­or, high-res­o­lu­tion views of Ant­arc­ti­ca, they added.

“It will open new win­dows of op­por­tun­ity for sci­en­tif­ic re­search as well as en­a­ble the pub­lic to be­come much more fa­mil­iar with Ant­arc­ti­ca and how sci­en­tists use im­age­ry in their re­search,” said Rob­ert Bind­schad­ler of NASA’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Green­belt, Md. 

The U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, Na­t­ional Sci­ence Founda­t­ion and Brit­ish Ant­arc­tic Sur­vey par­ti­ci­pated in the proj­ect.

“This in­nova­t­ion is like watch­ing high-definition TV in liv­ing col­or ver­sus watch­ing the pic­ture on a grainy black-and-white tel­e­vi­sion. These scenes don’t just give us a snap­shot, they pro­vide a time-lapse his­tor­i­cal rec­ord of how Ant­arc­ti­ca has changed,” Bind­schad­ler said. They “will en­a­ble us to con­tin­ue to watch changes un­fold.”

Re­search­ers can use the map to plan sci­en­tif­ic ex­pe­di­tions and map rock forma­t­ions and types, among oth­er uses, he added. To make the map, sci­en­tists stitched to­geth­er more than a thou­sand im­ages from three years of Land­sat ob­serva­t­ions. Eight dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the re­sult­ing “mo­saic” are avail­a­ble to down­load. 

Bind­schadler, who con­ceived the proj­ect, in­i­ti­at­ed NASA’s col­lec­tion of im­ages of Ant­arc­ti­ca for the proj­ect in 1999. He and col­leagues chose the im­ages to be used and de­vel­oped new tech­niques to in­ter­pret the da­ta. The col­lage con­tains al­most no gaps in the land­scape, oth­er than a dough­nut hole-shaped ar­ea at the South Pole, re­search­ers said.

“The mo­sa­ic rep­re­sents an im­por­tant U.S.-U.K. col­la­bora­t­ion,” said An­drew Flem­ing of Brit­ish Ant­arc­tic Sur­vey in Cam­bridge, U.K. “I have no doubt that po­lar re­search­ers will find this mo­sa­ic, one of the first out­comes of that in­i­ti­a­tive, in­val­u­a­ble for plan­ning sci­ence cam­paigns.”


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Researchers have unveiled a new, highly detailed map of Antarctica, built from satellite images, that they say will revolutionize research of the continent’s frozen landscape. Freely available at http://lima.usgs.gov, the map was created using the NASA-built Landsat 7 satellite. It gives a nearly cloudless view of the continent at 10 times greater resolution than any previous map, scientists said. With an unprecedented ability to see features half the size of a basketball court, the map offers the most geographically accurate, true-color, high-resolution views of Antarctica possible, they added. It “opens up a window to the Antarctic that we just haven’t had before,” said Robert Bindschadler of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “It will open new windows of opportunity for scientific research as well as enable the public to become much more familiar with Antarctica and how scientists use imagery in their research.” The U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation and the British Antarctic Survey participated in the project. “This innovation is like watching high-definition TV in living color versus watching the picture on a grainy black-and-white television. These scenes don’t just give us a snapshot, they provide a time-lapse historical record of how Antarctica has changed and will enable us to continue to watch changes unfold,” Bindschadler said. Researchers can use the map to plan scientific expeditions and map rock formations and types, among other uses, he added. To make the map, scientists stitched together more than a thousand images from three years of Landsat satellite observations. Eight different versions of the “mosaic” are available to download. Bindschadler, who conceived the project, initiated NASA’s collection of images of Antarctica for the project in 1999. He and colleagues chose the images to be used and developed new techniques to interpret the data. The collage contains almost no gaps in the landscape, other than a doughnut hole-shaped area at the South Pole, researchers said. “The mosaic represents an important U.S.-U.K. collaboration,” said Andrew Fleming of British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, U.K. “I have no doubt that polar researchers will find this mosaic, one of the first outcomes of that initiative, invaluable for planning science campaigns.”