Australian Antarctic convoy tests the way to the old ice | Polarjournal
With such tractors and containers pulled on sledges, the 10-member team has been on the road since December 23 to test material and, above all, the route across the plateau. Image: Sharon Labudda, AAD

“Looking back helps to see the way ahead” probably best sums up what the Beyond EPICA project is all about. Because in the middle of one of the highest points of the Antarctic ice sheet, an international research team wants to search for the oldest ice in the world and thus obtain important data about the climate history of our planet. The European and US teams will be joined by Australia. But first the Australians want to cross the Antarctic plateau with tractors and containers, a distance of over 1,200 kilometers.

The convoy, consisting of five sled trains pulled by tractors, set off from the Australian station Casey on December 23 to reach the “Little Dome C” research camp of the international “Beyond EPICA” project, more than 1,200 kilometers away. On board the convoy is a 10-member team consisting of technicians, glaciologists, doctor and electricians, who, for the next few weeks, are to scout the route and test the material for the convoys. The aim is to cover as much distance as possible, depending on the environmental conditions and the ground. Since the Beyond EPICA project is designed to run until 2026, Australia wants to have the way from the Casey station to Little Dome C built up as soon as possible and become part of the station on site.

A total of five Caterpillar tractors specially made for Antarctic conditions pull specially made sleds on which containers also specially made for such traverses are placed. Each of the 525 hp tractors can pull up to six sleds weighing a total of 80 tons and is also equipped with a crane to unload the containers. The containers themselves are both working and living/dining quarters, accommodating up to 26 people in the sleeping containers and 10 people in the kitchen-living container. Equipped with all the necessities such as kitchen and dining room and even washing machines and showers. Toilets are so-called incinerator toilets and waste water is stored in special tanks. Water is produced by melting snow and electricity is produced by a special generator container. With the tractors are also snow removal vehicles to create a path to the camp. Project manager Tim Lyons explains, “We need people to be safe but also comfortable living in these 40-foot vans for weeks at a time.”

More than five years of planning went into the project, which AAD calls “the largest and longest Australian traverse project in Antarctica in the past 20 years.” The goal is to create a path from the coast to the research camp so that there is a second land-based bridge to reach the camp. “Little Dome C” is indeed located near the French-Italian research station Concordia, which can be reached even by aircraft from McMurdo. But for Australia, which is part of the Beyond EPICA project, the route via its own Casey station is easier and less expensive. In addition, it also helps to further develop their own research program by allowing new and previously unknown plateau areas to be investigated. “Australia conducts world class science from our three continental stations but we need to look further afield,” says AAD’s chief scientist, Professor Nicole Webster. ““Developing inland traverse will help us expand our knowledge in key areas, including how ice sheets are responding to climate change.”

The international project “Beyond EPICA” aims to obtain ice cores that will provide a view of 1.5 million years of climate history. Currently, the oldest ice is a drill core that documents about 800,000 years of climate history. Swiss and German research groups are also involved in the project.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to the project website of the AAD

Link to the “Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice” project website

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