Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Virtual guide to hidden gems of Antarctica

Stephen Archer said the concept had been inspired by popular virtual tours of millionaires' mansions. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Stephen Archer said the concept had been inspired by popular virtual tours of millionaires' mansions. Photo / Mark Mitchell

An evolving online project is putting people up close to the hidden gems of Antarctica - without them setting foot on ice.

Stephen Archer, a doctoral student with Waikato University's International Centre of Terrestrial Antarctic Research, has been developing a navigation tool that gives users a virtual tour of the white continent.

The resource has much the same functionality as Google software, but takes the viewer off-road to such places as Kiwi Pond in the sweeping Miers Valley, the rock-strewn slopes of Mt Booth, or Bratina Island Camp.

Mr Archer, with help from volunteer photographers, has battled Antarctica's extreme elements and the logistical headaches they create to capture landscape panoramas with his cameras.

He said the concept had been inspired by popular virtual tours of millionaires' mansions.

"I thought, how cool would it be to do that around Scott Base?" he told the Herald.

"It's always difficult with single, still images, trying to give people an idea of the vastness of it.

"So I guess that's always been the main benefit of it - it gives the best idea of what it's like in Antarctica, without being there."

The project began as a sideline to the sample collecting which was part of his doctoral studies, but quickly became big enough to consume his rest time while at Scott Base.

"It obviously all comes with a few challenges - the primary one is it's cold, and the camera battery tends to die, so you have to keep your camera always under your jacket."

A generator was also needed to power his equipment in the field.

Mr Archer also helped produce stunning time-lapse videos with multiple cameras at multiple locations.

His creation had been live for almost a year, and updates are being added constantly..

"It's an ever-expanding project and each time I go on there I'm thinking of new things to add - pop-up boxes about the science that's being conducted, so it gives a better understanding of what's being done down there."

Take a look around Antarctica at http://tour.ictar.aq/tour.html

- NZ Herald

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