Thanks to satellite imagery and precise work, NASA researchers have pieced together a map that can track the arctic ice flow for the first time ever.
The result is a possible game changer for the scientific community says Eric Rignot, a Professor at Earth System Science School of Physical Sciences at UC. Rignot, also the Principal Scientist at the Radar Science and Engineering Section at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), lead the team of researchers in piecing together the arctic map.
Using billions of data points from European, Japanese and Canadian satellites, Rignot and his team were able to piece together a map of the ice flow. Rignot says this is a huge development which could help track future sea-level increases from climate change.
This is like seeing a map of all the oceans' currents for the first time. It's a game changer for glaciology, Rignot said. We are seeing amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been described before.
For 15 years, NASA worked in conjunction with various space agencies across the world to collect the data points that helped create this map. While some of the information was already known, the scientists made certain discoveries.
The researchers discovered a new ridge splitting the 5.4 million-square-mile (14 million-square-kilometer) landmass from east to west. They also found unnamed formations moving up to 800 feet, which move annually across large plains to the Antarctic Ocean.
The map points out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by slipping along the ground it rests. 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, said Thomas Wagner, NASA's cryospheric program scientist in Washington.
The region discovered is part of the changing landscape of the Arctic. NASA says it has the greatest impact on total ice sheet mass balance.
Not only was the work done by the scientists a first of its kind, so too was the collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA); Canadian Space Agency (CSA); Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; the Alaska Satellite Facility in Fairbanks; and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.
To our knowledge, this is the first time that a tightly knit collaboration of civilian space agencies has worked together to create such a huge dataset of this type, Yves Crevier of the CSA said.