Tapping the use of high-flying satellites, scientists have released the most accurate, high-resolution terrain map of Antarctica ever created.

The mapping project, called The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA), will change science in Antarctica.

The new map has a resolution of 2 to 8 meters, compared to 1,000 meters, which was typical for previous maps.

“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,” said Ian Howat, professor of earth sciences and director of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at The Ohio State University.

A hillshade (exaggerated) rendering of REMA Release 1. Credit: Polar Geospatial Center

Classified spacecraft

The project began with images taken from a constellation of polar-orbiting satellites – including classified spacecraft — that passed over areas of Antarctica an average of 10 times to take photographs.

In addition to the images, the REMA project needed software developed by Howat and M.J. Noh of the Byrd Center that processed the data on high-performance supercomputers.

Other collaborators included the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois, which provided the Blue Waters supercomputer that processed the images.

Support for REMA was provided by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Science Foundation.

Large-format prints of the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica. Credit: Paul Morin, Polar Geospatial Center

Decade of effort

Antarctica is now officially the most well mapped out region, or continent for that matter, in the world. Drawing upon hundreds of thousands of images collected by polar-orbiting satellites between 2009 and 2019, a consortium of scientists has released the first version of the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA).

ArcticDEM and REMA are public-private initiatives to automatically produce high-resolution, high-quality digital surface models of the Arctic and Antarctic using optical stereo imagery, high-performance computing, and open-source photogrammetry software.

The new map covers approximately 98% of Antarctica to a latitude of 88 degrees south — just a small area right near the South Pole is missing due to a lack of satellite coverage. The resolution is a mind-boggling 2-8 meter — it means we can now see objects down to the size of a car, and even smaller in some areas.

To dive in and look at Antarctica, go to this University of Minnesota site:


Also, take a look at this Ohio State University video at:


Also, put on a parka and go to:


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