Dramatic changes have been made to world maps as ice continues to melt around the Earth’s poles.
Cartographer Elena Field told Yahoo News Australia the alterations made to Antarctica and the Arctic since the last edition in 2018 are “incredibly visible”. “We’ve noticed really dramatic changes… we’re talking about icebergs that are the size of cities that have broken off in the last couple of years,” she said.
While the melting is in part due to natural processes, climate change is also having a significant impact on coastlines. As it continues to rapidly impact our environment, cartographers will be expected to work more rapidly and produce updates more often.
Why do we need cartographers when we have Google Maps?
Ms Field is employed by the British Antarctic Survey whose cartographers will have to update their maps regularly as Antarctica and the Arctic continue to change.
She visits Antarctica regions and her work mapping and recording geospatial data is essential to keeping explorers and scientists safe when they visit these extreme landscapes. While it’s possible to see coastlines on satellite imagery, as a cartographer she provides extra information like where land ends and sea ice begins.
“We’re dealing with an absolutely enormous area that’s really remote from any support,” she said. “Mapping plays a really important role in operational safety, and making sure people have the best available information.”
What are the biggest changes to the maps?
Maps of Antarctica and the Arctic compare the difference in average sea ice over the last 30 years versus the last 10 years and the change is stark.
Because large icebergs have broken free from Antarctica, the continent’s borders have been altered to reflect the new landscape. Four recent changes you can see on the map are:
2023 - The calving of iceberg A81 from the Brunt Ice Shelf (it’s the size of greater London).
2021 - The calving of giant iceberg A76 from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Significant changes to the Thwaites Glacier (known as the Doomsday Glacier).
Land next the Kohler Range is now an island.
But it’s not just the Antarctic that’s changing. The map now reflects modelling that predicts the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free well ahead of 2050.
Worryingly, it’s been predicted there will be at least one sea ice-free summer in the 2030s, but considerable uncertainty remains about the exact date it will become a permanent feature of the warmer months.
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