New polar maps offer a snapshot of regions in flux | Polarjournal
On one side, a shallow ocean surrounded by land and a highest point that reaches 6,190m above sea level (Mt Denali); on the other, a continent surrounded by a deep ocean a highest point of 4,892m (Mt Vinson) (Illustration: BAS)

The British Antarctic Survey’s latest version of its polar maps reflect the dramatic changes that are taking place in the Arctic and Antarctic

Britain’s national polar research institute has issued an updated map of the North and South polar regions that offers the general public updated images of the Earth’s poles. 

The new version of the British Antarctic Survey’s flagship printed map takes into account the effects of climate change, adopts indigenous names for locations in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, revises coastlines and updates infrastructure, reflecting the “dramatic” changes taking place. 

A map with two points of view, vertically from each pole is “a bit like looking at the earth from a space station”, according to Elena Field, a member of the BAS mapping team.

Since the release of the previous edition five years ago, cartographers have added the latest details and changes that have taken place. “There was enough to re-edit a map,” Ms Field said.

The result is the fruit of the meticulous satellite, hydrographic and toponymic monitoring, constantly carried out by the BAS. This map is the public version of all the information the BAS gathers. 

The 60th parallels skirt the southern tip of Greenland in the northern hemisphere and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula in the south. The two limits were chosen by BAS to allow it to cover more surface area than if the cartographers had restricted themselves to the 66th parallels.

The missing rectangle on the western edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf is where the Majorca-sized chunk of ice that became the A-76 iceberg broke off (Illustration: BAS)

In addition to serving as a reference map for the general public, the BAS’s polar maps are intended for scientists planning expeditions to these regions. They provide an overview of the whole area, with a wealth of detail. One centimetre on the map represents 100km in reality.

Ice melt is one of the most significant changes in the revised map. In Antarctica, for example, the 1,550 square kilometre section of the Brunt Ice Barrier known as A-81 that broke away at the beginning of the year, creating an island of ice the size of Martinique, is therefore absent. The same applies to the similarly sized A-74. 

“Maps are images at a given moment in time, which makes it difficult to reveal temporary dynamics,” said Emilie Canova, a specialist in cartographic representations at the Scott Polar Research Institute. So we don’t see the chunks of ice that have been lost, but we do see an updated image of the glacier boundary. “These changes are consistent with the history of Halley’s base, which was moved several times to avoid collapsing with the glacier.”

BAS has also added small schematic maps on the periphery of the main map, that can be used to compare the average areas of ice pack extension between late summer and late winter at different times. The map differentiates between the period 1981-2010 and the most recent decade.

The Arctic map has also been updated. The Canadian government has renamed places using indigenous names, which was not yet the case in the previous version published in 2018. This applies to dozens of villages, mountains and localities. Like Sanirajak in Nunavut, formerly known as Hall Beach. Some Greenlandic place names have also been changed. 

“It’s the nature of the map that always ends up hiding a certain reality. It’s interesting to see that native names are now being taken into account,” Ms Canova said.

In Russia, the coastline has been redefined using satellite images such as those from Sentinel-2. “Some roads or airports that had previously been considered small are now larger,” Ms Field said. They now appear on the map. Conversely, some infrastructure that has disappeared or been abandoned has not been included. 

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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