Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The (South) Polar Express

09.03.2005


Two centuries ago, it took Lewis and Clark three years to cross half of North America. It’s taking Michigan Technological University’s Russell Alger and his teammates only a little longer to blaze a trail to the South Pole.

Of course, Antarctica poses special challenges. Ninety-eight percent of the continent is buried under thousands of feet of ice. And it doesn’t help that the trail builders can only work for a few weeks during the summer and have to start over again every year from the starting point at McMurdo Station, on the coast.

For the fourth winter in a row, Alger, director of Michign Tech’s Institute of Snow Research, has joined a National Science Foundation effort to build a thousand-mile overland supply route to the international research station at the South Pole. Currently, supplies can only be flown in, and with the weather at the bottom of the world as dicey as it is, even in the middle of the southern summer air travel can be a crap shoot.



Ground travel may be delayed but is rarely stopped by weather. It’s much cheaper. And you can haul far more gear overland than you can in the air. “With the plane, everything has to be downsized,” Alger said. “They sometimes have trouble getting enough fuel to the South Pole, so NSF decided over the years to do the trail.”

So, since 1992, the team has forged south from McMurdo, traveling through un-tracked snow and picking their way over and around lurking crevasses. Nevertheless, all those years of driving over the same route are starting to pay off, Alger says. “This year, we noticed a great benefit; we were driving on something and not sinking all the time. With every passage, it should get better and better.”

As in past years, Alger was the point man on the traverse, traveling ahead of most of the convoy to watch for crevasses. The good news was that on the 500 miles of trail that had already been marked, only a handful of small new ones had formed.

A few miles past that point, Alger was air-lifted back to McMurdo. As the remaining team members began crossing new ground, however, their luck changed. “They had to worm their way through a lot of crevasses,” Alger said.

These ravines in the ice are doubly treacherous because they are usually invisible, covered with a layer of snow that likely as not will collapse with minimal provocation. The trick is to find them before they find you.

To do that, the team tests the surface with ground-penetrating radar, located on a boom attached to the front of the lead vehicle. When the radar detects a void, everyone stops.

“Depending on how deep the crevasse is, we either go around it--which is hard, because if there’s one crevasse there are usually lots of crevasses--or we dynamite it open and fill it in,” says Alger. “It’s actually kind of neat.”

Another danger in this country of no street signs is getting lost in bad weather. The lead trailblazer pokes a flag into the trail every quarter mile, while the other vehicles follow as much as several miles behind. “When a storm comes up, we stop. We don’t move unless you can see two flags ahead.

“It can be hard to find your way back.”

They expect to cross the final 200 miles next year. But as satisfying as that will be, this is a job that truly will never be done. The Ross Ice Shelf drifts northward toward the ocean at a rate of about a meter a day, so in a sense the trail will always be under construction.

So what’s the attraction, other than following in the footsteps of Scott and Amundsen? “The main reason I go is that I can stand in the sunshine,” Alger admits. When northern Michigan is shadowed in clouds and darkness, Antarctica is ablaze in day-and-night light.

“I sure hope I can go again next year.”

| newswise
Further information:
http://www.mtu.edu

More articles from Transportation and Logistics:

nachricht Tool helps cities to plan electric bus routes, and calculate the benefits
09.01.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Realistic training for extreme flight conditions
28.12.2016 | Technical University of Munich (TUM)

All articles from Transportation and Logistics >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>