Clearer view of cold continent

Representatives from three federal agencies and the British Antarctic Survey yesterday revealed an online digital map of Antarctica based on Landsat images.

The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica combines more than 1,100 Landsat satellite photos that were digitally compiled to create a single, nearly cloudless image. LIMA is a joint project of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey.

The project can be viewed on the Web at http://lima.usgs.gov. LIMA offers views of the frozen landscape at a resolution 10 times greater than previously available images. LIMA uses images captured by the Landsat 7 satellite, which was built by NASA and launched in 1999. Viewers can drill down to see features that are half the size of a basketball court, NSF officials said.

The scientifically accurate mosaic map is expected to become a standard geographic reference and will give both scientists and the public a state-of-the-art tool for studying the southernmost continent, NSF officials said.

For example, the LIMA mosaic will provide accurate snapshots of Antarctica's ice sheets, which contain more than 60 percent of the world's fresh water, said Scott Borg, director of NSF's division of Antarctic sciences.

LIMA, 'compared to what we had available most recently, is like watching the most spectacular high-definition TV in living color versus watching the picture on a small black-and-white television,' said Robert Bindschadler, chief scientist of the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

LIMA was produced using the USGS' Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) images from the Landsat 7 satellite. The Landsat program began in 1972. Since then, sensors 'aboard Landsat satellites have captured millions of digital images of the Earth's land masses and coastal regions used by researchers worldwide to study global change, natural disasters and other aspects of the Earth's terrestrial environment,' said Barbara Ryan, USGS associate director for geography.

NSF provided a grant of almost $1 million to the LIMA project, which is the first major scientific product of the International Polar Year, a coordinated international field campaign that began in March. During the IPY, hundreds of scientists in an array of disciplines from more than 60 nations will travel to the Arctic and Antarctic to perform research.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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