A LocalWiki for Antarctica

    by Philip Neustrom
    October 15, 2012

    Many months ago, we were approached about helping start up a LocalWiki project in Antarctica.

    In. Antarctica. Antarctica!


    The project, named “Open Antarctica,” would aim to initially document a region of roughly 2 miles surrounding the Palmer Station United States base on the Antarctic Peninsula.

    Our first question was: wait, there’s Internet in Antarctica? And yes, there is Internet access on the Antarctic bases — access that’s provided over an awesome-looking, though incredibly slow, satellite uplink. So slow, in fact, that we briefly thought about sending our contact down to Antarctica with a plug-in computer running a little LocalWiki server — but ultimately decided it was too much work for little gain.


    The next thing we started thinking about was mapping. Maps are a core feature of LocalWiki, so having a good map of the area, particularly the area near the research station, was really important. And ideally we’d have some aerial imagery and not just a vector map. “Let’s take a look at some maps of the area!” we thought.

    Given that we use OpenStreetMap data in our default base layer, let’s check out what our OpenStreetMap-based tiles look like around the island containing the research station:

    The orange dot is where the station is.

    As you can see, the OpenStreetMap map doesn’t really show any of the detail here — it’s missing the whole peninsula the station is on! The story’s the same with most freely licensed satellite imagery:

    Typical freely licensed satellite imagery.

    Some commercial satellite imagery, like Google’s, is better, but it’s still not at the level of detail we wanted — and it’s not freely licensed. There’s got to be some good aerial imagery of this region out there, right? Maybe if we found some good imagery we could stitch it together into a map?

    Read about how we did it…

    The result

    After much tweaking and dealing with strange errors — almost all of which related to map-projection issues — we finally put together a beautiful map of Antarctica in a glorious stereographic projection with stunning aerial imagery of the region laid on top of it:

    The area around Palmer Station. View map.

    Litchfield Island, the “island most frequently seen in dreams.” View map.

    Amsler Island. View map.

    Shortcut Island. You can even spot a seal! View map, view page.

    Some beautiful pages

    You should explore the project! Here are some beautiful pages to take a look at:

    Humble Island.

    The station trolley.

    Tagged: aerial imagery antartic localwiki mapping open antartica openstreetmap

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