An Antarctica Floe Chart Worthy Of Your Icy Stares

Using new satellite data, scientists have plotted exactly how the ice moves around the South Pole, shining new light on exactly how much water is going to flood into the ocean as the ice melts.

Antarctica is not just a solid block of ice. It's a living, moving area, where floes slide against each other. But just how they move has, until now, been a mystery shrouded in the cold air of the South Pole. Scientists have now mapped currents of the Antarctica's ice, showing that it ebbs and flows a lot like water. And it's not just a cool science project. That ice—as you've probably heard—is melting, and knowing where it's going to melt and how water will then flow out of Antarctica will help us better understand how rising oceans will affect cities around the world.

The map was created by stitching together billions of data points obtained from European, Japanese, and Canadian satellites, gradually filling in gaps created by cloud cover or sunlight reflecting off the ice. Using some NASA technology, researchers at UC Irvine eventually completed this animation of what the ice looks like as it moves 800 feet per year.

The mapping has led to new understanding of how water and ice will flow out of Antarctica as climate change melts more of it. Scientists can now see that the coastal ice is holding in vast oceans of glaciers in the center. Should that ice fail, those glaciers could slide right into the ocean, adding a lot more water than scientists previously thought. That's cause for alarm, but also the inkling of a potential solution: Find some way to keep all that ice in the middle of Antarctica, where it can't flood anyone.

[Hat tip: Smarter Planet]

[Image: UC Irvine]

Add New Comment


  • EE Jacks

    Fascinating information.
    Antarctic Arctic Article Archaic Archetype..A couple of those here.
    Relax people this is a news site..not a scientific publication.

  • Packet Guy

    No rest for the wired, Tyler. You've still got it wrong:

    "Antartica is not just a solid block of ice."

    It's not a solid block of ice. At all. It's a land mass like any other continent. You might as well say "Alaska is not just a solid block of ice."

    There _is_ cause for alarm here: incompetent journalism that engenders insubstantiated climate change hysteria. Check your facts and provide balanced reporting.

  • phil wollerman

    Sorry, but don't you now mean Antarctic, rather than the noun in your headline?

    I know, grammar police - better to spend time thinking about solutions to sea-level rise and global warming. Here in NZ we just had a week of "Antarctic" weather from an unusual slug of polar air from down south. Meteorologists described it as "once in a lifetime.." I said to my Dad "I'm sure glad we lived to experience global warming", as we stood looking out at the snow covering his garden for the first time ever.

  • Tyler Gray

    Nope. That there's Antactica pictured. The chart isn't of Antarctic descent. Happy to admit when we're wrong, but, thank goodness, we're not here. 

  • Tyler Gray

    Antarctica modifies "chart" in this instance, not "floe." Why am I debating this on Friday night? With myself. That's it, I'm going on vacation.

  • Tyler Gray

    What a bunch of iceholes we were in this instance. Thanks for pointing out our slushy fact-checking. Call it a case of Friday brain freeze.

  • phil wollerman

    Fast Company: Innovative, creative the ad. says, but this is possibly pushing it out too far. I already have an Mba, not a thirty second one, but if I didn't I'd be a little wary of one attached to site with such a fundamentally incorrect understanding of geography, research and very likely the underlying science. Imagine how the researchers at UCI winced when they read this...

    Living in the Southern Hemisphere makes one a bit more aware of the tendency to confuse polarity. In fact, contrary to the opening line, the Arctic IS a large ice sheet.  Antarctica is a continent.

    But the information is nevertheless fascinating, thank you.

  • Guru Gunaratnam

    Author:  The source material should be read again, the work has been done on the Antarctic ice flow, not the Arctic.  Use Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V next time for more accurate reporting.

  • Rusty Neff

    Your article repeatedly says "arctic" yet the map is of Antartica. C'mon guys...let's get it right.