High Resolution Elevation Data for Antarctica

Caitlin Dempsey

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8-meter resolution DEM of Antarctica

Called the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA), a new 8-meter resolution digital elevation model covering 98% of the continent of Antarctica has been released.  The release of this DEM provides access to much higher detailed maps of Antarctica’s terrain.

The project to develop this database was led by Ian Howat (Ohio State University) and Paul Morin (University of Minnesota).  The team developed open source Surface Extraction from TIN-based Searchspace Minimization (SETSM) software in order to apply automated stereo auto-correlation techniques.  Using this methodology, researchers developed Phase 1 of REMA by extracting information from 187,585 satellite images to produce the first high-resolution terrain map of Antarctica:

REMA is constructed from hundreds of thousands of individual stereoscopic Digital Elevation Models (DEM) extracted from pairs of submeter (0.32 to 0.5 m) resolution DigitalGlobe satellite imagery, including data from WorldView-1, WorldView-2, and WorldView-3, and a small number from GeoEye-1, acquired between 2009 and 2017, with most collected in 2015 and 2016, over the austral summer seasons (mostly December to March).

Each individual DEM was vertically registered to satellite altimetry measurements from Cryosat-2 and ICESat, resulting in absolute uncertainties of less than 1 m over most of its area, and relative uncertainties of decimeters


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The resulting high-resolution data will allow researchers access to better information needed to monitor changes in ice levels and other changes on the surface of Antarctica.

REMA hillside: Mulock Glacier, between Byrd Glacier and the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Flow is from the polar plateau on the right to the Ross Ice Shelf on the left.
REMA hillside: Mulock Glacier, between Byrd Glacier and the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Flow is from the polar plateau on the right to the Ross Ice Shelf on the left.

REMA is available for download as mosaic tiles (8 meter posting for most areas, 2 meter posting for rock outcrops and other areas of interest) and 2 meter posting strips.  GIS data in the form of shapefiles provides an index file for identifying strips segments.

More:

Subtle detail in the Larsen C Ice Shelf. The large crack in the upper right is the beginning of the formation of Iceberg A-68. North is to the left.
A section of REMA: Subtle detail in the Larsen C Ice Shelf. The large crack in the upper right is the beginning of the formation of Iceberg A-68. North is to the left.

1 kilometer resolution DEM

250 million measurements have resulted in the release of the highest available resolution digital elevation model (DEM) covering the Antarctic ice sheet and ice shelves.  The model was developed from data collected by CryoSat-2 altimetry between July 2010 and July 2016.  

The 1 kilometer resolution DEM is covers about 350,000 sq. km. more area than the previous DEM published in March 2017. The DEM covers elevation measurements for 94% of the continents ice sheets and 98% of ice shelf grid cells.

The European Space Agency launched CryoSat-2 on April 8, 2010, to collect data in order to better understand the relationship between the world’s ice layers and climate change. To study changes in polar ice coverage, the satellite collects data on ice thickness over land and ocean.

CryoSat’s radar altimeter is able to detect minor changes in ice height across Antarctica which means researchers will be able to track changes in the continents ice sheet.

Ice height in Antarctica. Source: CPOM
Ice height in Antarctica. Source: CPOM

The DEM can be accessed from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) portal.

Developing the Antarctica Elevation Dataset

Researchers used 6 years of CryoSat-2 Baseline-C Level 2 surface elevation measurements collected between July 2010 and July 2016 by the SIRAL (SAR Interferometer Radar Altimeter) instrument on the CryoSat-2 spacecraft.

Once the DEM was developed, researchers compared the model’s elevation estimations to measurements taken by aircraft laser altimeters during NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission to assess the DEM’s accuracy.

Overall,  94 % of the grounded ice sheet and 98 % of the floating ice shelves were observed with the areas north of 88 S interpolated using ordinary kriging.

The details about the development of this DEM are available in:

Slater, Shepherd, McMillan, Muir, Gilbert, Hogg, Konrad and Parrinello: A new digital elevation model of Antarctica derived from CryoSat-2 altimetry, The Cryosphere, 2018. DOI 10.5194/tc-12-1551-2018.

Mosaic of Antarctica

NASA has stitched together over a thousand satellite images to create the a detailed map ever of Antarctica.  The main LIMA site contains information about Antarctica including fact sheets, detail on how LIMA is being used to study and understand the continent and access to a virtual tour of Antarctica. 

antarctica_collage

A map server hosted on the USGS site allows visitors to view and download the Natural-Color, Pan-Sharpened Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA), order products from the USGS relating to Antarctica and find further GIS data resources for the continent. 

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.