Icy Polar Opposites

    The Challenge

    Design a data analysis and/or visualization tool to show the spatial and temporal changes in Arctic and Antarctic ice to a general audience.


    The Arctic and Antarctica are polar opposites, not just because they house the North and South Poles, respectively, but also because their geographies are opposite as well!  The Arctic is a semi-closed ocean almost entirely surrounded by land, while Antarctica is a landmass that is entirely surrounded by an ocean.

    Data about ice at the poles aren’t just useful to scientists who study the cryosphere, but they are also useful for international trade (sea ice forecasts for the Northwest Passage), and planetary science (comparing changing ice on Earth to that on other planets).

    NASA studies help us understand how ice structures in the Arctic and Antarctica are evolving in a changing environment. In addition to presence and absence of sea ice, ice sheets are also observed in three dimensions, so that measurements of how the sheets are changing from above and below, as well as side-to-side, can be made.

    Analyze and visualize NASA’s Arctic and/or Antarctic ice sheets and sea ice data to tell their story over time and over the three spatial dimensions.  In addition to seasonal changes in the extent of the ice, are there other patterns of change to be seen?  For example, are there differences in ice coverage in the same location between one day of the year (e.g. April 29, 2017) and the same day of other years (April 29, 2016; April 29, 2015; and so on…)?

    This challenge addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to engage all countries and all stakeholders in a collaborative partnership.  The SDGs aim to build a better future for all people by achieving sustainable development in three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental – in the spirit of strengthened global solidarity:

    • Goal 13.1:  Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
    • Goal 13.3:  Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.


    Consider comparing changes in ice sheets and sea ice over time and space with atmospheric and ocean conditions in the two regions.

    Resource Descriptions:

    Resources for this particular challenge are described below, instead of only appearing as links in the Resources menu on the right.

    • Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) – A laser altimeter that measures the elevation of ice (Greenland / Antarctic ice sheets; Arctic / Antarctic sea ice). Products vary from dense point clouds to general surface shape at specific times, to time series of how is the ice raising or lowering over time. Includes ice sheets and sea ice products.
    • CReSIS radar – Various frequencies of radar that shoot through the uppermost layers of the ice sheet (snow layer onlyupper few metersthousands of meters deep) and image internal layers within the ice, or in some cases, look all the way to the bedrock beneath the ice.
    • Digital Mapping System (DMS) – A downward-looking camera that captures tiny scenes.  The CAMBOT optical sensor precedes this, allowing a look farther back in time.
    • ArcticDEM (digital elevation model) – This is a map of the land surface elevation for (nearly) the entire Arctic, at one snapshot in time.
    • IceBridge DEM – This map of the land surface elevation captures multiple points in time.
    • Land, Vegetation, and Ice Sensor (LVIS) – Measures the height of vegetation in the polar regions.
    • Gravity anomalies from AIRGrav – Measures how the gravity differs in local regions (which happens due to more or less local mass, e.g. mountains).
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