Research Goals

The PGC's primary goal is to support polar research and operations, but we also conduct our own fieldwork and solve important questions using geospatial data. We apply GIS methods and techniques to create high-level geospatial products, apply existing data to groundbreaking science, and increase accuracy and usability of imagery and data.

For summaries of the latest research projects, please visit our news page.

Antarctic & Arctic Survey Control

The PGC has conducted fieldwork in both Antarctica and Greenland with the goal of collecting ground control points for orthorectification of satellite imagery and aerial photography. To date, we have four full seasons of collection in Antarctica including the McMurdo Dry Valleys and Ross Island, based out of McMurdo Station and one campaign to the Jakobshavn Isbrae on the west coast of Greenland. To collect ground control points, we use high-precision Trimble GPS units to identify permanent features and landmarks and establish a precise coordinate (latitude, longitude, elevation) for each. Then using a suite of GIS software, we “tie down” the locations to visible features on the imagery and an algorithm corrects the imagery, making it accurate up to 50 centimeters. Using the corrected imagery, more accurate and interesting questions can be solved such as glacier retreat, lake-level rise, or feature tracking.

Imagery-Derived Products

Much of our internal research is devoted to developing high-level deliverables using satellite imagery. Our staff is interested in analyzing and delivering products which help solve problems where sufficient data may not exist.

Using satellite imagery stereo pairs, the PGC has computed and tested developing high-resolution (less than 4 meter) Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) of locations in the poles, including outlet glaciers in Greenland and geologic features in Antarctica. This unprecedented work is important because it detects change over time at a resolution previously unheard of. For more information on stereo DEMs, contact Claire Porter.

The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) is a true-color satellite imagery mosaic, almost devoid of clouds, for Antarctica at 15 meter spatial resolution. With remote sensing software, the PGC is using classification methods to identify land-cover on the continent, specifically areas of rock outcrop. Identifying and classifying these area is important for several reasons, but a pan-Antarctic application has never before been completed at this resolution. To find out more, contact Spencer Niebuhr.

Antarctic Placenames

In collaboration with the United States' Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (ACAN), a subcommittee of the Board of Geographic Names, the PGC is in the process of improving the coordinates of Antarctic feature names. Because of the remoteness of Antarctica, many placename coordinates were recorded with a precision insufficient for today’s mapping uses. Therefore, the PGC, in international collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey and Australian Antarctic Division, have made a priority to improving the coordinates by identifying the features (mountains, valleys, capes, etc.) on satellite imagery and updating their location. Each country is responsible for its own placenames, but by working with other national programs, the movement is ensuring accuracy and legitimacy to name placement and mapping. For more information, contact Brad Herried.