New Zealand scientists have spent six years updating a seminal map of Antarctica completed by colleagues 50 years ago, and they hope it will help to unlock the degree and impacts of climate change.

The updated geological map of southern Victoria Land in Antarctica, covering 84,600sq km including the largest ice-free area on the frozen continent, shows the area in more detail than ever before.

It replaces a 1962 map generated by New Zealand geologists Bernie Gunn and Guyon Warren, who undertook a 1500km-long dog-sled journey with limited external support in the 1950s.

The stunning new map, arguably the most comprehensive look at a defined area of Antarctica in existence, includes critical information on glacial deposits and glacial history that could help unlock the degree and impacts of climate change.


"The new map is a great improvement and will provide a solid baseline for a variety of geological and biological science," said lead author, Simon Cox of GNS Science.

"The data from this map are already being used by scientists in New Zealand and overseas."

Published by GNS Science, it features the area between Ross Island and the Polar Plateau, in a region where New Zealand earth scientists have made their largest contribution to Antarctica.

The southern Victoria Land map has involved a compilation of information from about 500 scientific papers and 190 maps, some dating back nearly a century.

Geologists also undertook new fieldwork and studied satellite data and aerial photos in areas that were poorly known. More than a dozen external reviewers also provided input.

"It was so desperately needed. The previous edition was woefully out of date and only in hardcopy format. Those who initiated the project had complete conviction that it would be useful and will become highly valuable,"said Dr Cox.

The new map contains much more detail - about 195 different rock and ground classifications compared to 15 such groupings in the earlier version.

Dr Cox said the Gunn and Warren map has been a standard geological reference for decades and one of the most highly cited pieces of Antarctic literature.


"Our mapping team remain in awe of the achievement of Bernie Gunn and Guyon Warren," he said.

"Theirs was a remarkable contribution to Antarctic science, but we have now taken a giant leap forward."

The full-colour 1:250,000-scale map features in a 135-page companion book, entitled Geology of southern Victoria Land, Antarctica.

In his foreword in the book, prominent Antarctic scientist Peter Barrett, of Victoria University, describes the map as a masterpiece of clarity and detail.

"It will have value both on the walls or tables for big-picture conversations, or enlarged segments for specific projects."