Maps, Graphs, and Data

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity: Ice Flow

Ice Flow

The Earth's system is characterized by the interaction of processes that take place on molecular (very small) and planetary (very large) spatial scales, as well as on short and long time scales. Scientific visualizations allow us to experience Earth processes at faster speeds, and on manageable smaller scales, facilitating data analysis and enhancing understanding.

Harsh snows have blanketed Antarctica for so long that the continent has built up an ice sheet a mile thick from bedrock to surface in most places. Despite the ice cap's grip on the rocky landmass below, friction can only hold back the ice so much. This map from NASA reveals icy Antarctica as a landscape of constant movement. NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and University of California, Irvine have charted this movement for the first time, using Canadian, Japanese and European satellite data to create a record of the speed and direction of ice flow across the entire continent. The map reveals glaciers and tributaries in patterned flows stretching hundreds of miles inland, like a system of rivers and creeks. Slow-moving flows found in largely unexplored East Antarctica defied previous understanding of ice migration. And scientists discovered a ridge that splits Antarctica from east to west. Explore the visualizations below to see the new benchmark map scientists can use to study the extent and speed of changes to the largest ice sheet in the world.

In the first video, slow, interior flows have been sped up to make them more visible. The colors represent the real flow velocity magnitude.

In the second video, all flows are shown at the same scale. At this scale, only the fastest flows are visible.

In the third video, velocity magnitude colors have been removed and the direction of glacial flow stands out clearly against the icy background.

Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio, Goddard Space Flight Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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