Newly released satellite images of Antarctica a valuable scientific benchmark

Surveillance satellite images of Antarctica's Dry Valleys region, made public today [Sept. 14] by President Clinton, will be an important tool for establishing a baseline to measure environmental fluctuations in one of the harshest environments on Earth known to harbor life.

"The imagery released today represents a valuable benchmark for studies of changes in the region," said Scott Borg, who manages the U.S. Antarctic Program's geology and geophysics program. The National Science Foundation (NSF), through the USAP, coordinates numerous scientific research efforts in the region.

Borg noted that the satellite images will provide a basis for comparison with other data gathered in the region, thereby adding to a growing database of information that includes smaller-scale aerial photographs and high-resolution commercial satellite images.

The President announced during a state visit to New Zealand that the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) would make the satellite images available to scientists. He said this action makes Cold War products available for research on a continent reserved by treaty for peace and science.

The President also noted that Vice President Gore has been working for many years to open U.S. intelligence image archives for scientific use. The release of the Dry Valleys images and a previous release of satellite images from the Arctic Ocean are milestones in the process.

The NIMA image set includes a wide-angle snapshot, taken by surveillance satellites in 1975, which will help scientists compare conditions then in the Transantarctic Mountains with other available images and data of a more recent vintage.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys region is the only Polar desert site in the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, which consists of a network of 21 ecosystem research sites extending from Alaska to the continental United States to

Contact: Peter West
National Science Foundation

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