Antarctic Glacier Flow Mapped for First Time, Uncovers Newly Discovered Glaciers

A mapping project that stemmed from the International Polar Year has provided scientists with an intricate map of previously unmapped glaciers and their slow progress across the icy continent of Antarctica. “This is like seeing a map of all the oceans’ currents for the first time. It’s a game changer for glaciology,” said UCI Earth system science professor Eric Rignot, lead author of a paper on the ice flow published online today in Science Express. “We’re seeing amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been described before.”

Rignot, along with University of California, Irvine associate project scientist Jeremie Mouginot and Bernd Scheuchl used billions of data points captured by satellites run by the European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies. Then, with the aid of NASA technology, they pieced together the imagery to reveal the shape and velocity of glacial formations.

In so doing, the team also looked at the previously unchartered East Antarctica, which represents 77% of the massive continent.

Rignot said that they were stunned when they looked at the whole picture they had pieced together.

They discovered a massive ridge which splits the continent from east to west, and is 5.4 million square miles. They also saw unnamed glaciers and other formations moving up to 800 feet a year across immense plains sloping toward the Southern Ocean, and doing so in a manner different to 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.”

The video below shows the motion of ice in Antarctica as measured by the 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 animation shows how the ice is transported from the interior to the coast, and the colours represent the speed at which the ice is flowing. The red and purple colours represent the fastest speeds.

Source: University of California, Irvine

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