NASA-funded researchers have discovered new ice formations moving across Antarctica, after creating the first complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow.
The map, which was created using integrated radar observations from a consortium of international satellites, shows glaciers flowing thousands of miles from the heart of the continent to its coast. It will be critical for tracking future sea-level increases from climate change, says NASA.
“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.”
The team used billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites to see past the cloud cover, solar glare and land features masking the glaciers.
They then pieced together the shape and velocity of glacial formations, including the previously uncharted East Antarctica, which comprises 77 percent of the continent.
When the picture was complete, the team was surprised to discover a new ridge splitting the 5.4 million-square-mile landmass from east to west.
They also found unnamed formations traveling up to 800 feet a year towards the Antarctic Ocean, and moving in a different way 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.”