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SCAR General News

GeoMAP Taylor Vly Hjorth Hill Dougal Townsend webToday we mark a ground-breaking transformation in Antarctic research, and a new way to understand the frozen continent.

We are proud to announce documentation of the first open-access and comprehensive geological mapping database of Antarctica, GeoMAP Antarctica, was released today in Nature Scientific Data.

Understanding Antarctica’s geosphere is, and has been, critical for understanding the continent’s major role in global climate - and thus, our future.

Despite Antarctica’s reputation as an icy expanse, over 52,000 km2 of exposed rock and sediment make up the mountains and surfaces of the continent. Each of these areas contain important information on the continent’s geological, geomorphological, and glaciological history.

Simply, rocks play an important role in - and tell us a lot about - the complex interaction of land, atmosphere, and climate. Geological knowledge of the continent’s mountains, sediments and soils, helps pinpoint the location, history and movement of glaciers, and even meltwater production. These insights provide foundational knowledge for researchers, from climate scientists, to biologists, to ecologists and volcanologists.

Therefore, having an accurate digital record of the continent’s known surface geology will be invaluable to researchers in the coming years.

Seeking to build this record, an international team led out of New Zealand, created GeoMAP to be the first detailed digital database that collates all the historical, and existing, geological data of Antarctica.

Today, GeoMAP stands as the world’s first, and only, open-access resource that provides this detailed geological account of what we know about the frozen continent, all in one place.

Constructing GeoMAP was a large, and long-term, international effort led out of SCAR by GNS Science in New Zealand. The project involved principal collaborators from USA, Norway, Italy, UK, Australia, Russia and New Zealand, and contributions from at least 14 nations.

Geological study has taken place in Antarctica for over a century, so constructing GeoMAP to compile the existing geological knowledge into one place, took several years. The research effort included interpreting information from beautiful 20th Century hand-drawn maps, digitising hard-copy regional maps, and then integrating them with modern high-resolution datasets.

Project leader, Simon Cox from GNS Science in New Zealand says,

“In many ways GeoMAP is like a Wikipedia of Antarctic geology. We purposefully created GeoMAP to be a fundamental, continent-wide, and open-access collection of datasets of geological information, compiled into a modern mapping framework. We believe GeoMAP will be used in, and evolve with, a wide breadth of future research across the world.”

“The map is amazing and a huge contribution to the scientific community. This is, I think, a significant legacy for the GeoMAP team that will be a useful tool for any researcher wishing to tie the abundance and distribution of biology to the local geology” says Professor Craig Cary, Microbial Biologist, University of Waikato, New Zealand.

Lead data architect, Belinda Smith Lyttle from GNS Science says, “There are still many areas in Antarctica yet to be visited by any geologist, and other areas where very detailed mapping has yet to be captured - and there is always new research taking place - so the GeoMAP database has been designed to be editable and improved over time.”

To construct GeoMAP Antarctica, the team adapted the methodology developed by GNS Science to build the geological map on New Zealand. This effort was made possible by the co-funding from GNS Science's Nationally Significant Databases and Collections Programme (NSDC), which is supported by the New Zealand Government’s Strategic Science Investment Fund. This New Zealand led effort was also enabled by a core-team of passionate collaborators across the globe.

GeoMAP also supported a global team of dedicated student volunteers who visited New Zealand from Italy, Norway, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. They contributed to this world-first project in return for some on-job training and a chance to examine the icy continent carefully.

For geological knowledge, GeoMAP compliments Antarctica’s reputation as the “continent of science and collaboration”.

GeoMAP Fig2 data layers webNations contributed maps from their previous geological surveys to be summarised into GeoMAP. The project team ensured that all original work can be found and referenced easily within the GeoMAP database. Local experts across the globe then rigorously checked and reviewed data. The philosophy ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ therefore now rings true for geological knowledge of Antarctica through GeoMAP.

The work of GeoMAP will facilitate the ongoing mission of SCAR to coordinate international understanding of Antarctica through a common platform.

Simon Cox says, “Our whole GeoMAP international team is now proud to say, the entire dataset can be accessed online, downloaded for free by anyone who wants to know more about Antarctica. This publication in Nature Scientific Data provides a handbook for its use and highlights the global importance of the data.”

For more information on GeoMAP and to download or access the metadata, visit the GeoMAP product page.