Here’s what Antarctica would look like without the ice

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British Antarctic Survey

A map compiled by the scientists of the British Antarctic Survey shows the most detailed image yet of the Antarctic landmass—minus all that ice. The map confirms a new deepest surface location on the continent, the course of a river that flowed across Antarctica before the formation of the polar ice caps, and a few specific figures on what will happen as the Earth’s average temperature rises.

Put together by a system called Bedmap2, the map uses data collected from satellite imagery, radio echoes establishing the depth of the ice sheet, seismic measuring techniques, and traditional cartographic surveying. The new map improves upon information gathered by Bedmap1 in 2001, and serves as a refinement on the measure of the true volume of ice in the Antarctic ice cap.

That means we now know even better what will happen when (not if, as io9’s Annalee Newitz points out in a comment) the polar ice caps melt completely—a 58-meter rise in global sea levels thanks to the Antarctic cap alone. According to this new data, the volume of ice covering Antarctica is 4.6 percent greater than the Bedmap1 data suggested.

Furthermore, the intense technology-aided geographic survey reveals the deepest surface point of Antarctica: The land under Byrd Glacier is 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) below sea level, approximately 400 meters lower than the previously known deepest point.

The re-imaged land bed of the Antarctic continent will help geologists understand the formation of the landmass over time, including shifts between ice ages—which will help us to understand what might happen as the global climate continues to change. Not to mention plate tectonics, of course!

The full survey of Antarctica via Bedmap2 is available for free via The Cryosphere, an open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union. So if you feel like running some simulations yourself—or just want to read more about the giant ice cube that is the southernmost part of our planet—help yourself!

[British Antarctic Survey via io9, LiveScience]

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This story, "Here’s what Antarctica would look like without the ice" was originally published by TechHive.

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