Research News

Antarctic Research Unveils New Index for Assessing Human Activity Suitability

Dec 17, 2023

In the vast and unforgiving expanse of Antarctica, where human activities are on the rise, researchers from the Key Laboratory of Digital Earth Science with the Aerospace Information Research Institute (AIR) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have introduced a new tool to navigate the challenges posed by the harsh environment. The newly defined Human Activity Suitability (HAS) index aims to provide essential macro-scale information for decision-makers when selecting sites for human activities on Antarctic ice shelves.

To develop the HAS index, scientists employed two multi-criteria decision analysis methods (AHP + Entropy, TOPSIS) and three machine learning methods (support vector machine, random forest, and logistic regression). These methods were tested to create detailed HAS maps, offering a quantitative analysis of locational suitability based on nine conditioning factors related to ice surface features, ice shelf stability, meteorology, and topography.

Among the machine learning methods tested, the Random Forest emerged as the top performer in accurately predicting human activity suitability. Evaluation metrics, including the area under the curve (AUC-ROC), root mean square error, overall accuracy, and kappa index, underscored the effectiveness of the proposed models.

The resulting HAS map reveals a significant heterogeneity driven by the combined influence of multiple factors. Notably, areas characterized by low HAS classes concentrate around Crosson, Brunt, Thwaites, and the edges of some ice shelves. This observation implies a complex and challenging environment in these regions, highlighting potential hazards and difficulties associated with human activities.

The implications of this research extend beyond immediate decision-making. The HAS index and corresponding maps offer valuable insights for forecasting the potential human footprint in Antarctica. By understanding locational suitability, researchers can better support sustainability initiatives in the region. This innovative approach contributes to the ongoing efforts to balance human activities with the preservation of Antarctica's delicate ecosystem.

The study was published in the International Journal of Digital Earth on Nov. 30.