Transport in Antarctica

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Transport in Antarctica has transformed from explorers crossing the isolated remote area of Antarctica by foot to a more open area due to human technologies enabling more convenient and faster transport, predominantly by air and water, as well as land. Transportation technologies on a remote area like Antarctica need to be able to deal with extremely low temperatures and continuous winds to ensure the travelers' safety. Due to the fragility of the Antarctic environment, only a limited amount of transport movements can take place and sustainable transportation technologies have to be used to reduce the ecological footprint. The infrastructure of land, water and air transport needs to be safe and sustainable. Currently thousands of tourists and hundreds of scientists a year rely on the Antarctic transportation system.

Land transport[edit]

Mawson Station started using classic Volkswagen Beetles, the first production cars to be used in Antarctica. The first of these was named 'Antarctica 1'. However, the scarcity and poor quality of road infrastructure limits land transportation by conventional vehicles. Winds continuously blow snow on the roads. The South Pole Traverse (also called McMurdo – South Pole Highway) is a 900-mile (1450 km) road in Antarctica linking the United States McMurdo Station on the coast to the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station.

In 2006 a team of six people took part in the Ice Challenger Expedition. Travelling in a specially designed six wheel drive vehicle, the team completed the journey from the Antarctic coast at Patriot Hills to the geographic South Pole in 69 hours. In doing so they easily beat the previous record of 24 days. They arrived at the South Pole on the 12th of December 2005.[1]

The team members on that expedition were Andrew Regan, Jason De Carteret, Andrew Moon, Richard Griffiths, Gunnar Egilsson and Andrew Miles. The expedition successfully showed that wheeled transport on the continent is not only possible but also often more practical. The expedition also hoped to raise awareness about global warming and climate change.

A second expedition led by Andrew Regan and Andrew Moon departed in November 2010. The Moon-Regan Trans Antarctic Expedition this time traversed the entire continent twice, using two six-wheel-drive vehicles and a Concept Ice Vehicle designed by Lotus.[2] This time the team used the expedition to raise awareness about the global environmental importance of the Antarctic region and to show that biofuel can be a viable and environmentally friendly option.

Water transport[edit]

A tour boat in fast ice near the coast

Antarctica's only harbour is at McMurdo Station. Most coastal stations have offshore anchorages, and supplies are transferred from ship to shore by small boats, barges, and helicopters. A few stations have a basic wharf facility. All ships at port are subject to inspection in accordance with Article 7, Antarctic Treaty. Offshore anchorage is sparse and intermittent, but poses no problem to sailboats designed for the ice, typically with lifting keels and long shorelines. McMurdo Station (77°51′S 166°40′E / 77.850°S 166.667°E / -77.850; 166.667), Palmer Station (64°43′S 64°03′W / 64.717°S 64.050°W / -64.717; -64.050); government use only except by permit (see Permit Office under "Legal System"). A number of tour boats, ranging from large motorized vessels to small sailing yachts, visit the Antarctic Peninsula during the summer months (January–March). Most are based in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Air transport[edit]

Transport in Antarctica takes place by air, using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Runways and helicopter pads have to be kept snow free to ensure safe take off and landing conditions.

Antarctica has 20 airports, but there are no developed public-access airports or landing facilities. Thirty stations, operated by 16 national governments party to the Antarctic Treaty, have landing facilities for either helicopters and/or fixed-wing aircraft; commercial enterprises operate two additional air facilities.

Helicopter pads are available at 27 stations; runways at 15 locations are gravel, sea-ice, blue-ice, or compacted snow suitable for landing wheeled, fixed-wing aircraft; of these, 1 is greater than 3 km in length, 6 are between 2 km and 3 km in length, 3 are between 1 km and 2 km in length, 3 are less than 1 km in length, and 2 are of unknown length; snow surface skiways, limited to use by ski-equipped, fixed-wing aircraft, are available at another 15 locations; of these, 4 are greater than 3 km in length, 3 are between 2 km and 3 km in length, 2 are between 1 km and 2 km in length, 2 are less than 1 km in length, and data is unavailable for the remaining 4.

Antarctic airports are subject to severe restrictions and limitations resulting from extreme seasonal and geographic conditions; they do not meet ICAO standards, and advance approval from the respective governmental or nongovernmental operating organization is required for landing (1999 est.) Flights to the continent in the permanent darkness of the winter are normally only undertaken in an emergency, with burning barrels of fuel to outline a runway. On September 11, 2008, a United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III successfully completed the first landing in Antarctica using night-vision goggles at Pegasus Field.[3]

In April 2001 an emergency evacuation of Dr. Ronald Shemenski was needed from Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station when he contracted pancreatitis. Three C-130 Hercules were called back before their final leg because of weather. Organizers then called on Kenn Borek Air based in Calgary. Two de Havilland Twin Otters were dispatched out of Calgary with one being back-up. Twin Otters are specifically designed for the Canadian north and Kenn Borek Air's motto is "Anywhere, Anytime, World-Wide". The mission was a success but not without difficulties and drawbacks. Ground crews needed to create a 2 km runway with tracked equipment not designed to operate in the low temperatures at that time of year, the aircraft controls had to be "jerry-rigged" when the flaps were frozen in position after landing, and instruments were not reliable because of the cold. When they saw a "faint pink line on the horizon" they knew they were going in the right direction. This was the first rescue from the South Pole during polar winter.[4] Canada honoured the Otter crew for bravery.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ice Challenger 2005 Retrieved on 2008-10-14
  2. ^ Trans Antarctic Expedition Retrieved on 2011-02-20
  3. ^ Rejcek, Peter (September 26, 2008). "Air Force successfully tests new capability to fly any time of year to McMurdo". Antarctic Sun. 
  4. ^ Transcript (26 April 2001). "Plane With Dr. Shemenski Arrives in Chile". CNN. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Polar Doc Rescuers Battle Time, Weather - ABC News". Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  6. ^ "Canadians pulled off daring 2001 South Pole rescue". 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 

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