The Antarctic Peninsula in spring.
updated 5/10/2011 11:56:29 AM ET 2011-05-10T15:56:29

The Earth's poles remain two of the places on the planet least touched by humans, so maps of these regions are often incomplete. But a new mapping effort seeks to shed light on details of the Arctic and Antarctic.

A group of scientists with the University of Minnesota's Polar Geospatial Center has been mapping the rugged terrain in Antarctica since 2007 and now plans to expand their efforts to the planet's other pole.

The effort also provides logistical support and training for other researchers studying the Earth's poles.

"Our work impacts everything from research on the movement of glaciers to the study of penguin colonies to the landing of military aircraft in remote locations," geophysicist and team leader Paul Morin of the University of Minnesota said in a statement.

"Some of the maps we produce are the first of their kind of locations that no person has ever visited," Morin added.

The group has also created a partnership with Google to keep polar data up-to-date in Google Earth and Google Maps for the Arctic and Antarctic. The Polar Geospatial Center is also contributing remote- sensing expertise to David Attenborough's upcoming BBC documentary "Frozen Planet."

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The imagery also provides innovative ways of studying polar animals. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, Morin and his staff have collaborated with researchers in the United States and around the world to complete the first-ever census of emperor penguins, and they’ve shown that the imagery can be used to count Weddell seals.

The Polar Geospatial Center staffs an office in McMurdo Station, the U.S. base, every year during the Antarctic summer. The center also provides support to research projects in Arctic Alaska, Siberia and Greenland.

The work is part of a nearly $4 million, five-year cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

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