NASA’s Aqua satellite passed over Antarctica on a sunny spring day in October, 2012, allowing the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard to capture this true-color image of the Western Ross Sea and Ice Shelf.
Running from north to south in the center of the image the ridges of the Transatlantic Mountains roughly mark the edge of the continent of Antarctica. To the left of these mountains lies Victoria Land, and to the right lies the Ross Sea. In the south, the sea is covered by the Ross Ice Shelf.
Appearing both smooth and bright white, the Ross Ice Shelf covers an area about the size of Spain. It is the largest of the 47 named Antarctic Ice Shelves and, at roughly 182,000 square miles (472,000 square kilometers); it is the largest ice shelf in the world.
North of the Ross Ice Shelf, the Ross Sea is covered with a layer of sea ice. This ice is crossed with spider-web-like lines, which are actually breaks in the ice. As the lengthening daylight brings warmth to the region, the ice will begin to shift along these fracture lines as the spring melt begins. In a few areas near the coast and near the edge of the Ice Shelf, bits of blue indicating open water can be seen.
On the northwest edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, not far from the coastal mountains, lies Ross Island. The southern tip of this island is home to McMurdo Station, the largest community in Antarctica. It is a scientific facility and can support over 1,200 residents in comfort, despite the harsh climatic conditions of the region.