Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

South Pole re-routed

26.02.2002


Satellites see through snow to steer safely across Antarctica.


Snow knowing: the south pole is a navigation nightmare.
© SPL


’Linda’ marks the spot where a hidden ice crevasse swallowed a snow tractor.
© SPOT Image Corp.



Satellite images that expose perilous crevasses now reveal safe overland routes to the South Pole. Carolyn Merry of Ohio State University in Columbus has pieced together high-resolution satellite pictures that see through the snow, to map the passable Pole1.

Since a snow tractor, floundered into a hidden fissure in 1991, all supplies have been flown into the US South Pole research station. Safe transport routes might be a cheaper way to bring in bulk provisions or building materials for the new polar station currently being built.


"It would be a very good tool," says Cecilie Rolstad of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. In future, polar explorers might study satellite maps before setting out, she predicts. Yawning abysses the length of a football pitch "are a real danger", says Rolstad.

Merry used infrared images from the Landsat satellite, to pick out light and dark features on snow and ice, plus a visible light image from the SPOT satellite. She mapped routes starting at the McMurdo station, the main port into Antarctica, across the vast Ross Ice Shelf.

Like isobars on a weather map, sweeping lines and rifts on Merry’s map reveal the direction and rates that the ice is flowing and shearing. "It shows areas you should avoid," she says.

Snow fall

"The surface was white snow for miles around; we could see no relief," recalls tractor driver Quinton Rhoton: "Then gravity struck."

In 1991, Rhoton and his companion were driving a snow tractor out from McMurdo dragging a sled full of explosives too dangerous to ship by air. They plummeted into a hidden crevasse. "Shattered glass from the cab window and snow streamed into the cab," remembers Rhoton. Wedged by a V-shaped gash in the ice, 16 tonnes of cargo were left teetering on the icy lip above them.

Without handholds on the sheer walls, the two waited in the tractor for several hours before other group members hauled them out with ropes.

The crevasse was hidden under an ice bridge - undetectable to the eye - but visible in Cherry’s satellite images. The map suggests that the crevasse formed upstream of the crash site, as stresses on the ice appear insufficient at that spot. "I would have told them not to go there," says Merry.

References

  1. Whillans, I.M. & Merry, C.J. Analysis of a shear zine where a tractor fell into a crevasse, western side of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 33, 1 - 17, (2002).

HELEN PEARSON | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/020225/020225-1.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>