Antarctic photo science archive unlocked

The Antarctic Peninsula - the northernmost extent of the White Continent which stretches up towards South America - has experienced quite dramatic warming in recent decades.

The fronts of many of its glaciers have quite obviously retreated, and several of the marine-terminating ice streams have even seen their floating shelves disintegrate. But getting at the volume and mass changes in the glaciers has been a thorny issue.

Satellites are used to track such trends today but their record spans only a few decades. The archive of aerial photos, on the other hand, goes back to the 1940s, and it represents an extraordinary account of the pioneering days of polar exploration.

The men who ventured forth in their planes to capture pictures of the peninsula's rugged ice-scape took huge risks, with none of the back-up that modern expeditions can count on. "They had no idea what they were flying into because no-one had ever been there before," said Dr Clarke.

"And all the photographs, they would develop using nearby glacial stream water at the base camp they set up," she told BBC News.
That these old images still have scientific value in the 21st Century is down to novel techniques that are able to precisely position the pictures using newly created accurate, modern-day elevation models of the peninsula.

The team is using the latest optical satellite data to do this, as well as modern aerial photos acquired by BAS planes equipped with GPS. Fundamental to these techniques is finding visual cues in the ice-scape that allow historical and current information to be married up.

 

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