Climate scientists call the polar continents "canaries in the coal mine" for climate change. When we see big departures from the norm in the extreme north and south, changes are likely on the way for the rest of the planet.
The images here show the south end—Antarctica. Each one is a mosaic of 3,150 satellite pictures mashed together to form one grand view. They're at a very high resolution and can be used by scientists to understand the condition of the ice.
The images were created by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, which manages the RADARSAT-2 satellite on behalf of the Canadian Space Agency. They're hosted by the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network, at the University of Waterloo, which maintains the Polar Data Catalogue, a hub for several sets of polar data.
"Looking at Antarctica from space gives us so much more information than we could ever get from the ground," says Julie Friddell, CCIN's information services and science manager. "The images can tell us what is happening in places that we have never seen and may not see for a long time."
In fact, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showed contrasting fortunes for the Arctic and Antarctica. While the former's ice is retreating rapidly, the latter's has actually been growing to record-high levels. That doesn't mean climate change isn't occurring, though. It just means that the processes involved are more complicated than originally thought. Scientists are currently coming up with new theories.
[All Images: RADARSAT-2, © MacDONALD, DETTWILER AND ASSOCIATES LTD.]