Scientists at NASA have been working hard to reveal the most alien landmass on the planet: Antarctica. Humans have never seen the continent without snow and ice, but now, using decades of research, we can see a digital rendering of what lies underneath the ice and snow. NASA compiled data from the British Antarctic Survey and images from the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to create the most comprehensive topographic image of the continent ever made.

For the project, researchers collected three sets of data: surface elevation, ice thickness and bedrock topography. The program was created using work from the British Antarctic Survey, from which researchers used decades of measurements along with information from ICESat and information gathered by the Operation IceBridge, an airborne project used to collect data about the area. The result is a highly detailed image of Antarctica’s topography and to make it even more interesting, the NASA webpage for the project allows viewers to compare the old and new maps and the Antarctic both covered in and devoid of ice.

Researchers explain that this more accurate view can help us to better understand the impact that the melting ice will have on the rest of the planet. “It will be an important resource for the next generation of ice sheet modelers, physical oceanographers and structural geologists,” said Peter Fretwell, lead author on the project. Models for testing the result of ice melt rely on an accurate representation of the sub-terrain below the ice. The more accurate the picture, the better modeling results we can expect to see. Understanding the shape of the bedrock below also allows researchers to better understand how the ice will move and flow.

In the end, the project is the result of not just a compilation of data that is already out there, but a careful analysis of a wide variety of information that has been gathered over the past few decades. And not only does it promise to help scientists with climate modeling, but it is also an exciting view into a place that humans have never seen.

+ NASA BedMap 2

via Wired