The amount of ice at the poles and glaciers around the world has dropped dramatically in recent decades due to climate change. The loss of ice will become increasingly important as temperatures continue to rise, but to accurately predict specific changes, we need accurate data.
With that in mind, researchers at the University of Edinburgh questioned whether they could improve the data collected by the CryoSat satellite of the European Space Agency. They were able to reprocess the observations compiled since 2010 and dramatically improve the resolution, delivering the most accurate 3D map of CryoSat's Antarctic.
The results were presented this week at the Living Planet Symposium in Milan, Italy. CryoSat carries a radar altimeter that is used to measure the height of the world's ice. The satellite sends a microwave pulse and the time it takes the pulse to bounce off the ice and return to the satellite. The differences in the return time correspond to precise differences in altitude.
While the approach has been very useful in obtaining images of the vast frozen expanse of the continent further south, it does not yield very detailed results on the Antarctic terrain. The data analysis carried out so far has focused on the first data point that goes back to the ship, so that the finer details of soil formation could be missing.
The research team used an approach called "fringe processing", which takes into account all the data coming from the microwave pulse. By employing this technique, they were able to reduce the spatial resolution on the surface to less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles). This allowed the production of the excellent 3D map, which provides precise altitudes and quite detailed information on geographical formation.
There is much interest in producing detailed maps of Antarctica. Just last year, the continent's best land map was launched by researchers. The map is really so good that it is the best map of a continent that has been made.
Antarctica is still an unexplored and somewhat mysterious part of the world, but its well-being is crucial for us. If all the ice that covered Antarctica melted, the global level of the sea would rise 70 meters (230 feet).[H/T: BBC News]