If you’re planning a trek to Antarctica, or even just want to mindtrek the place, stunning new maps recently put together and made available to the public allow for incredibly detailed views of the frozen continent that have to be seen to be believed.

Called REMA, the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica, the terrain map was produced in a collaboration between professors at the University of Minnesota and Ohio State University and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The professors, Ian Howat from OSU and Paul Morin of UM, analyzed satellite data provided by NGIA to put together the most detailed maps of Antarctica yet made.

Previous satellite imagery of the continent lagged behind what most of us could see in the detail of our neighborhoods from software like Google Earth. Now, researchers are able to measure the height of any feature on Antarctica within a few feet. The resolution of the REMA maps is six to 26 feet. Previous satellite imagery was restricted to 1,000-meter resolutions.


“If you’re someone that needs glasses to see, it’s a bit like being almost blind and putting on glasses for the first time and seeing 20/20,” Howat told The New York Times. “Until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica.”

While these maps are beautiful in their starkness and will allow for excellent route planning, researchers intend to use them to monitor changes in Antarctica’s glaciers and ice fields to better understanding the warming of the polar regions. New ice growth, calving of glaciers, cracks forming in ice shelves—all of this will be visible year-round and at far higher resolution than ever before, immediately boosting the quality of research into the effects of a warming climate on Antarctica.

Typically, detailed imagery of the continent can only be captured in the months when sunlight actually illuminates Antarctica—the austral summer months of December through March. Lots can change over the rest of the year, however, so researchers will no longer have to wait months to see activity from glaciers breaking away, or new rivers of meltwater forming.


The maps cover 98 percent of Antarctica, leaving only a small blurry hole at the South Pole because of a gap in satellite coverage. Though research stations have been located on Antarctica for decades and polar explorers have crossed great distances of the frozen deserts there, the vast majority of the continent is still unexplored. It’s one of the truly wild places left on the planet. To be able to peer down from space and zoom in to this kind of detail is astounding and a whole different kind of exploration.

“After this project, the poles are going to be the best-mapped places on earth,” said Howat.

The REMA maps are fairly intuitive and easy to manipulate. Head here to do a deep dive of your own.

Photos: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency


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