- South Pole Traverse
South Pole Traverse McMurdo – South Pole Highway
A red line indicating the path of the traverse
Route information Length: 900 mi (1,400 km) Existed: 2007 – present Major junctions South end: Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station North end: McMurdo Station Highway system
The South Pole Traverse, also called the McMurdo – South Pole Highway, is an approximately 900-mile (1450 km) compacted snow road in Antarctica that links the United States' McMurdo Station on the coast to the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. It was constructed by leveling snow and filling in crevasses, but is not paved; flags mark its route.
After four years of development, the trail is now operational, with Caterpillar and Case Corp. tractors pulling specialized sleds to deliver fuel and cargo to the South Pole in about 40 days. The return trip to McMurdo Station, with less fuel and cargo, is substantially shorter. Construction started during the 2002-03 southern summer field season. It was finished in the southern summer of 2005-2006.
The McMurdo Ice Shelf and the Antarctic Plateau are relatively stable. Most crevasses occur in the short steep shear zone between them, where the road climbs to more than 2000 meters above sea level. This section of the road needs maintenance each season. The section caused much more construction work than planned, since two ice sheets move against each other there.
The project was funded by the United States National Science Foundation to provide a lower cost, potentially more reliable method of supplying the South Pole Station. Bad weather at McMurdo some summers has reduced the total number of supply flights the NSF could make to bring in construction supplies and scientific equipment. In addition, the traverse saves an estimated 40 flights and lowers the carbon footprint over the use of aircraft. After a one-year hiatus, a traverse team re-occupied the trail during the 2007–08 season after extensive work and completed the first operational traverse in 2008–09.
The road also facilitated the movement of heavy equipment needed to implement its proposed South Pole Connectivity Program, a planned optical fiber link between the South Pole and the French–Italian Concordia Station located at Dome C at the edge of the Antarctic Plateau; Concordia has 24-hour access to geosynchronous satellites. Such satellites cannot be used at the poles since they are below the horizon; the South Pole now uses a few older, low-bandwidth satellites that dip sufficiently south of the equator to be usable for several hours daily. These satellites are near the end of their life. A new road to McMurdo might provide a regularly maintained alternate route for such a link; however, opinions vary as to the shear zone section's suitability for a long-term cable. It's also possible the NSF may choose to deploy several special purpose satellites in polar orbits.
A February 7, 2006 NSF press release stated that 110 tons (99,790 kg) of cargo had been successfully delivered overland to the South Pole Station in a "proof of concept" of the highway.
Region Location Mile Destinations Notes East Antarctica Antarctic Plateau 0 Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station Southern terminus West Antarctica Ross Ice Shelf 900 McMurdo Station Northern terminus 1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi
- ^ "The Antarctic Sun, Jan. 1, 2006". The Antarctic Sun. http://antarcticsun.usap.gov/pastIssues/2005-2006/2006_01_01.pdf.
- ^ "Ready to roll". The Antarctic Sun. 2009-05-01. http://antarcticsun.usap.gov/features/contentHandler.cfm?id=1361.
- ^ "South Pole online in 2009". ITworld. December 24, 2002. http://www.itworld.com/Tech/4535/021224southpoleonline/.
- ^ "Icy Overland Trip May Add Ground Vehicles to South Pole Supply Missions" (Press release). National Science Foundation. February 7, 2006. http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=105718. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- USA's Science-Driven "Ice Highway" Hitting Rough Sledding in Antarctica Online Insider, December 13, 2004
- No, not a ski resort - it's the south pole Guardian (UK), January 24, 2003
- "Construction Begins on South Pole Highway". Outside Online. January 30, 2003. http://outside.away.com/news/headlines/20030130_1.html.
- "US building highway to the South Pole". New Scientist. January 23, 2003. http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3300.
- NSF FY 2007 Budget Request to Congress -- see pages 197 to 203 for a discussion of the proposed highway
- NSF 2005 Facility Plan -- see page 53 for a brief overview of fiber vs. satellite links
- Diagram of route with timeline of progress made to date
- Tractor caravan supplies South Pole scientists; robotic replacements considered Washington Post, February 8, 2011
- Robotic Traverse
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