Due to its location, the frigid continent of Antarctica is covered with nothing but ice, making it seem like the continent is nothing but boring flat land. However, thanks to a computer-generated simulation, we get to see that Antarctica is actually bumpy and pretty unique — it’s just that we don’t get to see it with all that ice covering it up.
Essentially, the continent is covered in one big ice sheet, which is over 3 kilometers thick in some places, and while you may think that the ice sheet just sits there, it’s actually constantly flowing out to the sea under the force of the ice’s own weight. NASA virtually de-iced Antarctica to see what the underlying bedrock looks like, and it’s pretty amazing.
The project is called Bedmap2 and it was created by the British Antarctic Survey, but NASA’s contribution to the project includes surface measurements from its now-retired ICESat satellite. The data used in the projects has taken decades to fully gather, and NASA’s own satellite took several years to get complete measurements.
NASA says that knowing what the bedrock of the continent looks like helps scientists understand how the ice flows and how much of that might contribute to sea-level rise. Climate change is becoming a huge issue amongst scientists and researchers, and they think that Antarctica may help them find some answers to hankering questions.
Since Antarctica’s ice doesn’t actually remain stagnant (but rather constantly flows in different directions), scientists can use that to predict how it might effect Earth’s climate, and knowing what the underlying bedrock looks like, they can predict how the ice will flow exactly, giving them a good idea about how this will affect the climate in the future.