• 08.19.11

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]

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly