New Map Shows Only a Tiny Sliver of Antarctica Is Ice-Free—For Now

Image: Antarctica, from NASA’s Operation IceBridge
Image: Antarctica, from NASA’s Operation IceBridge
British climate scientists have published a new article in the journal Cryosphere announcing a new method of analyzing satellite imagery to distinguish between snow, rock, shadow, and clouds. Previous guesses put the amount of exposed rock in Antarctica at less than one percent. The new method nails that down to 0.18 percent, a huge improvement in accuracy.

By Ian Birnbaum | MOTHERBOARD

The way snow, clouds, and rock look alike in satellite images has been a pain for mapping teams for a while, but this is especially a problem in Antarctica, where the entire continent is made of nothing but those very similar things.

Members of the British Antarctic Survey wrote a script that analyzed high-latitude imagery and parsed clouds from snow and rock. “This is the first automated methodology for the differentiation of snow and rock in Antarctica,” the paper’s authors wrote, “from which a new outcrop map of the entire Antarctic continent has been produced at higher and more consistent accuracies than existing data and techniques.”

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