NASA and Antarctica’s Ice Shelves

New data from NASA and the British Antarctic Survey has provided a detailed picture of the rocky landscape beneath Antarctica’s ice.

The focus of this new project, named Bedmap 2, is to discover how Antarctica will react to a changing climate, which will provide new insight into the layers of the icy continent. Due to limited knowledge of how thick Antarctica’s ice is, and what is below this ice, challenges are presented that makes studies of this nature difficult. Thanks to Bedmap2’s new map, researchers will be able to develop a new understanding of the continent’s role being played within our environment.

Bedmap2 is an improvement of the original project Bedmap. Both display sets of surface elevation, ice thickness, and bedrock topography. They are laid out as grids over the continent, but Bedmap2 includes new surface and subsurface features that aren’t found in the first Bedmap dataset. Bedmap2 will assist in developing more accurate calculations of ice volume and potential contributions to sea level rise with improved usage of GPS systems, better resolution, and enhanced precision.

Bedmap2 data of Antarctica’s bedrock. Vertical elevation has been exaggerated by 17x. (NASA/GSFC)

Bedmap2 data of Antarctica’s bedrock. Vertical elevation has been exaggerated by 17x. (Image Source: NASA/GSFC)

How will this new trove of data make specific contributions to understanding the planet? With ice sheet modeling, researchers use computer models to simulate how the sheets will react to changes in temperatures.

“Ice sheets grow because of snow, and like honey poured on a plate, spread outward and thin due to their own weight,” said Sophie Nowicki, an ice sheet scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Through these simulations it is possible to examine what would happen in many different climate scenarios. They are very limited, though, by the accuracy of the ice volume data. Bedmap2’s newly refined data will help researchers make more precise estimates regarding changes in sea level.

The new maps of the bedrock will also provide key improvements with ice sheet simulations. “The shape of the bed is the most important unknown, and affect how ice can flow,” said Nowicki. “You can influence how honey spreads on your plate, by simply varying how you hold your plate.” The vastly improved bedrock data included in Bedmap2 should provide the level of detail needed for models to be realistic.

By making ICESat and IceBridge data freely available to researchers, such as those who worked on Bedmap2, NASA is providing tremendous value to the scientific community. If you would like to voice support for these efforts, make sure to utilize Penny4NASA’s easy-to-use tool to contact your representatives:

“NASA’s IceBridge Mission Contributes to New Map of Antarctica”
“What Does Antarctica Look Like Under the Ice?”
“NASA Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) at NSIDC – IceBridge Data”