Here’s What Antarctica Looks Like Under All The Ice

Antarctica is covered in miles of ice. But what does it look like underneath?

Here’s Antarctica as we know it today, a land of vast ice sheets.
Here’s Antarctica as we know it today, a land of vast ice sheets. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Antarctica hasn’t always been covered by miles-thick ice sheets, a land of hunkered-down penguins and some scraggly grasses. Roughly 35 million years ago, Antarctica was a warmer, more luscious land. Then, the glaciers that now dominate the land were relegated to the high mountaintops, if they existed at all. Instead of miles of frozen water, Antarctica was teeming with trees and flowering plants, a verdant landscape home to ancient marsupials, says Rice University’s John Anderson. And, in research released earlier this year, an international team of scientists have given us our best look yet at what that land may have looked like:

The topography of Antarctica
The topography of Antarctica, beneath all the ice, as measured by the Bedmap Consortium. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

This map came from Bedmap2, headed by the British Antarctic Survey and is an update from a previous, similar map.

An elevation map of Antarctica.
An elevation map of Antarctica. Fretwell et al. / Bedmap Consortium

Here’s NASA explaining how the map was put together:


Who knows what scraps of plant and animal material from the ancient world may have survived the crushing and grinding of flowing glacier ice? Miles of ice still stand between us and the Antarctic terrain, but one day we might find out.

More from

First Signs of Life Found in Antarctica’s Subglacial Lakes
Ancient Climate Change Meant Antarctica Was Once Covered with Palm Trees

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.