Researchers chart long-shrouded glacial reaches of Antarctica

Researchers chart long-shrouded glacial reaches of Antarctica
First complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica, derived from radar interferometric data. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCI

( -- A vast network of previously unmapped glaciers on the move from thousands of miles inland to the Antarctic coast has been charted for the first time by UC Irvine scientists. The findings will be critical to tracking future sea rise from climate change.

"This is like seeing a map of all the oceans' currents for the first time. It's a game changer for glaciology," said UCI professor Eric Rignot, lead author of a paper on the flow published online today in . "We're seeing amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been described before."

Rignot, who is also with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and UCI associate project scientists Jeremie Mouginot and Bernd Scheuchl used billions of points of data captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites to weed out cloud cover, solar glare and land features. With the aid of NASA technology, they painstakingly pieced together the shape and velocity of glacial formations, including the huge bulk of previously uncharted East Antarctica, which comprises 77 percent of the continent.

These animations shows the motion of ice in Antarctica as measured by satellite data from the Canadian Space Agency, the Japanese Space Agency and the European Space Agency, and processed by NASA-funded research from the University of California, Irvine. The background image from the Landsat satellite is progressively replaced by a map of ice velocity, which is color-coded on a logarithmic scale.

Like viewing a completed jigsaw puzzle, Rignot said, the men were stunned when they stood back and took in the full picture. They discovered a new ridge splitting the 5.4 million-square-mile landmass from east to west. They found unnamed formations moving up to 800 feet each year across immense plains sloping toward the Southern Ocean – and in a different manner than past models of ice migration.

"These researchers created something deceptively simple: a map of the speed and direction of ice in Antarctica," said Thomas Wagner, a cryospheric program scientist with NASA's MEaSUREs program, which funded the work. "But they used it to figure out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by slipping at its bed, not just at the coast but all the way to the deep interior of ."

"That's critical knowledge for predicting future sea-level rise," he added. "It means that if we lose ice at the coasts from the warming ocean, we open the tap to the ice in the interior."

The work was completed during a period called the International Polar Year, and is the first such study since 1957. Collaborators working under the aegis of the Space Task Group were NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, as well as the Alaska Satellite Facility, and MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates Ltd.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time that a tightly knit collaboration of civilian space agencies has worked together to create such a huge dataset of this type," said Yves Crevier of the Canadian Space Agency. "It is a dataset of lasting scientific value in assessing the extent and rate of change in polar regions."

Explore further

Antarctic ice loss speeds up, nearly matches Greenland loss

Provided by University of California - Irvine
Citation: Researchers chart long-shrouded glacial reaches of Antarctica (2011, August 18) retrieved 18 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Aug 19, 2011
The Ice is melting for the same reason it always has.

At present, CO2 only causes about 1/3rd of the melting, and only 1/4th (or much less actually) of the CO2 is even man made. In fact, as I described in the article on deforestation in Brazil, if you consider fire fighting in the U.S. alone, man has a net negative CO2 footprint...

At any rate, previous estimates were wrong.

Two thirds of the present rate of ice melting is caused simply because the ice wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. Albedo changes are melting the ice, returning the earth to what it was in the past.


During the Eocene-Oligocene extinction event about 34 million years ago, CO2 levels have been found to be about 760 ppm[31] and had been decreasing from earlier levels in the thousands of ppm

I find it hilarious that everyone blames man for CO2 and Global Warming, when in the past allegedly life existed with thousands of PPM CO2...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more