Geographic Information Systems


GIS in Action in Antarctica

The German tour ship, MS Bremen
© British Antarctic Survey

Be an Antarctic scientist! Use GIS to answer real science questions in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey.

The Antarctic is a key component of the Earth's natural system. The British Antarctic Survey's science programme Polar Science for Planet Earth seeks to understand this role through a research programme including terrestrial and marine biology, glaciology, geology, geophysics, metrology, oceanography and atmospheric science.

Nearly all the scientific data needed for this research is spatially referenced (is about a specific place). Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can analyse different strands of complex, spatially referenced, thematic (scientific) data together to look for relationships between them. It can visualize the results to help researchers interpret and understand the scientific story within the data.

This section supports A Level studies which require students to:

  • Use modern information technologies, including Geographical Information Systems, as appropriate to the content
  • Develop understanding of the application and relevance of geography.

Three case studies from the British Antarctic Survey show how GIS can be used to shed new light on environmental research in Antarctica: Students will use GIS techniques to:

1) Visualize and look for patterns in outputs from a climate model that predicts wind direction and strength in Antarctica

2) Examine the relationship between the surface of the ice sheet and the rock surface below and sea-level using Digital Elevation Models. Create and interpret Cross-Sections through the Antarctica ice sheet.

3) Plot the shape of ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula at different dates to calculate statistics about their area and show how they have changed over time.

The examples use ESRI's ArcGIS system and its components such as ArcMap but the concepts and techniques highlighted are not specific to this system. Specific GIS terms can be found at the end of the glossary.

>> 7:1 Mapping wind speed