What’s it like to slowly inch your way across the featureless, white Antarctic icescape at a snail’s pace for more than 30 days?
Australian Antarctic Division Operations Specialist, Anthony Hull, will soon find out when he sets off on a 3200 kilometre traverse with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), at the end of the month.
Travelling at just 7.5 kilometres per hour, the traverse won’t break any speed records, but will certainly test the team as they spend up to 12 hours a day hauling a convoy of diesel-powered prime movers, sleds, shelters, science platforms and fuel bladders.
“I expect the conditions will be noisy, cold and very bumpy, but it will be amazing to reach inaccessible parts of the continent, where you only have yourself and the team to rely on if something goes wrong.”
The traverse team will depart the British station Rothera at the end of December and take more than a month to travel to various locations on the Ronne Ice Shelf.
“This is a really exciting opportunity to observe and learn about the extensive planning, safety analysis, equipment selection and fit-out, as well as logistical support needed for a deep field traverse in Antarctica,” Mr Hull said.
His experience will help develop the capabilities required for the Australian Government commitment of $45 million dollars to develop an overland traverse capability to pursue plans to drill a million year ice core.
The funding, detailed in the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, covers ice core drilling equipment, mobile station infrastructure, and support.
“On this British traverse there will be a core team of 4 people, with others joining throughout the expedition, including mechanics, operations personnel, and scientists.
“We will be conducting a number of scientific research projects en route and at specific points on the ice shelf,” Mr Hull said.
The traverse will support two major scientific projects. The ‘Bed Access, Monitoring and Ice Sheet History’ project will look at the past behaviour of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the flow of the fast “ice streams” that drain it. The ‘Filchner Ice Shelf System’ project is capturing new observations and data on the stability of the Filchner Ice Shelf, to better predict sea level rises for the next 50 years.