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 Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>