Quantarctica 3 released

In brief:

The Antarctic Ice Sheet is huge, roughly 4000 km by 5000 km, about 43 times larger than mainland Norway. Antarctica’s interconnected ocean, atmosphere, lithosphere, and cryosphere host myriad food chains from plankton to top predators. To help the Antarctic community keep track of it all, we created Quantarctica.


By: Kenichi Matsuoka, Anders Skoglund, George Roth, Yngve Melvær and Stein Tronstad // Norwegian Polar Institute

This screenshot shows ice movement. Slowly moving inland ice (purple, moves only a few metres per year) is channeled into fast-moving glaciers (blues and greens, move 100-500 metres per year) and flows beyond the grounding line (white curve), becoming a floating ice shelf. Arrows show the direction of flow. Arrow lengths and the background colour show the flow speed. The location of the close-up map is shown in the pan-Antarctic map at the bottom left.

Version 3 of the open GIS package “Quantarctica” was released in 2018. This geospatial data package is built on the free, open-source, cross-platform QGIS software. It is capable of operating entirely offline (for example during Antarctic field work or a cruise in the Southern Ocean), and includes a wide range of cartographic basemap layers, scientific data sets, and satellite imagery. Quantarctica was first released in 2013. A year later, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) designated it as an official SCAR product. Before version 3 in 2018, Quantarctica’s main users were glaciologists, because the package included only the base map, satellite imagery, and glaciological data.

In 2014, we were fortunate to receive two-year project funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expand the data coverage and enhance the user-oriented aspects, thus making Quantarctica suitable for a larger user community. To ensure that we collected the most high-quality, useful, and state-of-the-art data from a wide range of disciplines, we formed the Quantarctica editorial board. The board selected more than 150 peer-reviewed data sets covering glaciology, geophysics, atmospheric science, biology, oceanography, social sciences, and more. We also expanded the project’s extent and data coverage to 40°S, so that Quantarctica is now not just for Antarctic scientists but for sub-Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientists as well.

Indeed, Quantarctica is used not only by scientists but also by environmental managers, logistics operators, outreach specialists, and even educators in classrooms. We have Quantarctica users in most countries that are active in Antarctica. Global mirror sites in Hobart, Tokyo, Goa, and Minneapolis enable smoother downloads for the international community.

Let’s take a tour of Quantarctica!

Quantarctica starts with both simple and detailed basemaps. Many features in the detailed basemap are scale-dependent, so you can zoom to the appropriate level of detail depending on your area of interest. We have three sets of satellite data (Landsat, Radarsat, and MODIS) for the entire continent and for the sub-Antarctic islands, with pixel sizes ranging from 15-125 m.

Scientific data are categorised according to various scientific disciplines. Colours and colour ramps were carefully chosen to be colourblind-friendly. Because the power of GIS is to see multiple data sets together, we styled the colours of relevant data layers to coordinate well together. We covered both observed and modelled data sets, and, when possible, we included layers representing data error so that non-specialists can understand the quality of the data without prior knowledge.

On the top of these layers, we have SCAR registered names, facility names listed by the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), a range of latitude and longitude lines, UTM zones, and other miscellaneous layers. Finally, all layers contain meta-data, including a brief abstract for non-specialists, information on how to cite the data, pixel resolution, and any adjustments we made (often just a simple re-projection of the data).

If you work with or in Antarctica, download Quantarctica today to make maps for proposals and papers and develop field or data acquisition plans. You are free to add your own data sets. After work, don’t forget to explore regions you haven’t visited before, to find new surprises and enjoy eye-opening experiences. Even if you don’t have a professional interest in Antarctica, try Quantarctica to see the power of combining an integrated mapping environment with free software. Maybe you will be inspired to develop a similar tool for your own study area.


Kenichi Matsuoka, Anders Skoglund, George Roth, Yngve Melvær and Stein Tronstad // Norwegian Polar Institute

Further reading

Further reading

Quantarctica website