Did you know: Up until September 2018, we had a more detailed map of Mars than we had of Antarctica? That, thankfully, has been changed by scientists in the United States who have released a new map of Antarctica – one that puts maps of all other continents to shame.
This new map, called The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA), has a resolution of 2 to 8 meters, compared to the previous maps’ spatial resolution of 1,000 meters. Seeing them side by side in the image below helps to appreciate the stark difference in visual clarity of the two maps:
According to project leader Ian Howat, who is a professor at The Ohio State University, “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. We will see changes in snow cover, changes in the motion of ice, we will be able to monitor river discharge, flooding and volcanoes. We will be able to see the thinning of glaciers.”
If you’re thinking that sounds a bit too incredible, wait till you hear what the file size of this one single map is: 150 terabytes! Check out its miniature version below:
No wonder it took a supercomputer to process the high-resolution images provided by a constellation of polar-orbiting satellites. On an average, these satellites captured all the different regions of Antarctica at least 10 times – resulting in a map so accurate that you could even do route-planning for the treacherous terrain of the continent, just like you would have done for any urban city using Google Maps.
As Howat sums up, “It changes the threshold of what you can do in the comfort of your own office compared to what you had to do in the field.”