NASA has released a map charting the movement of massive ice sheets on the continent of Antarctica. By compiling these maps into animations like the one shown above, researchers can, for the very first time, examine how the outward flow of the continent's ice sheets could help us predict future rises in sea level.
The map was created as part of an international effort to better understand the geophysical characteristics of Antarctica's glaciers. Billions of data points — measured with satellite data provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the Japanese Space Agency, and the European Space Agency — were processed by NASA-funded researchers at UC Irvine to get as clear a view as possible of the shape and velocity of the continent's glacial formations.
"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. "We are seeing amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been described before."
Among the surprises uncovered by the creation of the map were previously unnamed formations of ice that are progressing steadily toward the Antarctic Ocean.
"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."