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European scientist presenting sharper 3D view of Antarctica

The amount of ice on the poles and in glaciers around the world has shrunk dramatically in recent decades due to climate change. The ice loss will become increasingly prominent when temperatures continue to rise, but to accurately predict the specific changes, we need accurate data.

With that in mind, researchers from Edinburgh University wondered if they could improve on the information gathered by the European Space Agency's satellite cryoSat. They were able to resume observations collected since 2010 and dramatically improve the resolution and delivered CryoSat's sharpest 3D map of Antarctica yet.

The results were presented this week at the Living Planet Symposium in Milan, Italy. CryoSat carries a radar altimeter that is used to measure the height of the world's ice. The satellite sends a microwave pulse and times how long it takes for the pulse to bounce the ice and return to the satellite. Differences in return time correspond to exact height differences.

While the approach has been very useful for depicting the southernmost continent's large icy propagation, it does not yield very detailed results regarding Antarctica's terrain. The data analysis carried out so far has focused on the first data point that comes back to the craft, so that perhaps the finer details of ground formation are missing.

The research team used an approach called "swath processing", which takes into account all the data coming from the microwave pulse. By using this technology, they could reduce the spatial resolution of the surface to less than 1

kilometer (0.6 miles). This made it possible to produce the excellent 3D map, which provides precise heights and rather detailed information on geographic formation.

There is much interest in producing detailed maps of Antarctica. Just last year, the best terrain map was released on the continent by scientists. The map is actually so good that it is the best map of a continent ever made.

Antarctica is an unexplained and somewhat mysterious part of the world, but welfare is crucial to us. If all the ice covering Antarctica is melted, the global sea level would rise with a disturbing 70 meters.

[H/T: BBC News]


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