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NASA Puts Detailed Antarctica Maps on Internet

Experts from the U.S. space agency are preparing high-resolution maps of Antarctica for public distribution on the Internet. Researchers from NASA and the United States Geological Survey are piecing together a mosaic of images from U.S. satellites that will become the most detailed map ever of the frozen landscape around the South Pole. This is one of many projects funded by the United States during the International Polar Year, a project that brings together research and studies conducted by more than 100 nations. VOA's Paul Sisco has more.

Antarctica is one of most forbidding places on Earth. Scientists now know that climate changes there affect the whole planet.

As part of International Polar Year, NASA, with help from several other scientific organizations is bringing that frozen continent to the Internet.

Robert Bindschadler is the project's chief scientist. He says, "Tourists are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get on a ship and get cold and look at just a very small part of Antarctica. This is a way, in a virtual sense, [that] people will be able to pick the spot they want to go and see what it really would look like."

There are some 8,000 NASA satellite images of Antarctica. More than a thousand from the space agency's newest mapping satellite, LANDSAT-7, are being handpicked and assembled into a mosaic, creating the most detailed high-resolution map of the frozen continent ever produced.

"I want it to be used to allow people to feel like they're being taken to Antarctica, to show them what Antarctica would look like if they were fortunate enough to be able to travel there," says Bindschadler.

NASA has collected millions of digital satellite images of Earth since the LANDSAT program began more than 30 years ago. "LANDSAT imagery is a pretty familiar way of looking at the Earth. There are LANDSAT mosaics of all the other continents except Antarctica," he says.

There will be a variety of versions of the final color composite available to the public on the Internet.

"It provides a true color view of Antarctica, at a high enough resolution that [one] can really see the features that scientists are interested in -- mountains, glaciers, the ice streams, where the bases are,” says the NASA researcher. “It really is that perfect vehicle to take people, show people what Antarctica looks like."

The first NASA images are on the Internet now. The full interactive map is still under development, but it should be complete in a few months.