The heavy equipment operators of the South Pole Traverse team made it to the South Pole today. Their important cargo of fuel, food, and construction supplies were a welcome arrival at the station.
The South Pole Traverse, also called the McMurdo – South Pole Highway, is an approximately 900-mile compacted snow road in Antarctica that links McMurdo Station on the coast to the South Pole Station. It was constructed by leveling snow and filling in crevasses - flags mark its route. 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 6,000 feet above sea level. This section of the road needs maintenance each season. This section caused much more construction work than planned, since the two ice sheets move against each other.
The National Science Foundation wants to use the traverse as an alternative way to deliver fuel, as well as bulky materials, to the South Pole. Currently, the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft operated by the New York Air National Guard is the only means of such transport. And the traverse tractors and their sleds wouldn’t return to McMurdo empty, as they could haul back waste and obsolete materials.
The 10-person team hopes to deliver about 264,000 pounds of cargo to South Pole and AGAP, along with 55,000 gallons of fuel to the South Pole and 50,000 gallons to the AGAP (Antarctica Gamburtsev Province) field camp. The traverse will use up to 80,000 gallons on the trail this year.