ADD TO COLLECTION
  • Add to new collection
Cancel
Rights: Thin Ice/University of Waikato
Published 30 March 2017
Download

Dr Daniel Dixon and Professor Paul Mayewski show us what it is like to be part of an Antarctic tractor traverse train. The scientists face harsh weather, long days of travel and cramped conditions. But the thrill of investigation keeps them coming back year after year.

Transcript

Dr Daniel Dixon

When you’re out in the field with a group like this, you have no one to rely on apart from yourself and each other. So it’s quite a challenge really, and that’s really what keeps me going back.

Professor Paul Mayewski

These are two Challenger 55s. We use them for pulling these heavy sleds, and right now, we are having a problem with one of the Challengers. The radiator and the fan broke. Once we get it together, we should be on our way to the Pole tomorrow.

Technician

Right now it’s about minus 25 to minus 30, and the wind chill is probably about minus 40 to minus 50, so as soon as you touch this metal to hold it with bare hands, you get frostbite. You can hear the motor in the background. That’s a gas-fired heater trying to blow some warm air on us so Josh can keep his hands going.

Dr Daniel Dixon

It’s a hostile environment without a doubt. If you were dumped out in the middle of the ice sheet, I’d probably give you a maximum of a day. And that’s if you are lucky. It’s quite extreme. We have to drive for thousands of kilometres to get to areas that are very clean and very far away from any human activity.

Professor Paul Mayewski

We effectively travel in three different groups. The first is that red PistenBully that’s over there. It has a crevasse detector on the front.

Dr Daniel Dixon

It’s essentially a safety device used to look for any cracks or holes or potential danger within the ice.

Professor Paul Mayewski

We only have about 20 metres that we can stop in, so we have to be very, very vigilant looking at that screen.

The second train is made up of these two blue boxes. The first one is the kitchen with four people in it. The second has another seven people in it for accommodation and scientific experiments.

Dr Daniel Dixon

OK, so we’ve got the Caterpillar 55 tractor, we have the 7 tonne sled carrying fuel and generators. This blue insulated building is the kitchen. It also has four bunks. Then behind that is another blue building. This is where many of us sleep.

Simon Lamb

Pretty cosy.

Dr Daniel Dixon

Very cosy, and then behind that, you will see the small antenna for the mid-frequency radar.

Professor Paul Mayewski

This is our deep radar programme. It’s dragged behind the main team.

Dr Daniel Dixon

It can actually see all they way through the ice sheet, down through over 4,000 metres of ice, and it can see the layers within that ice, and it can also see the bedrock.

Professor Paul Mayewski

This is probably the worst ride in the entire programme. Brian Welsh gets bounced around all over the place. He determines the thickness of the ice, and he’ll be sitting in this for many, many days on our way to Pole.

Dr Daniel Dixon

Siglin Sleds, these are big plastic sheet-type sleds. They can pull an awful lot of weight, in this case, many barrels of fuel, food, trash boxes and rubbish, and this one is carrying ice cores and science equipment.

And then last but not least is potentially the most important sled of the expedition. This is our polar pooper or the toilet sled. Oh, the door came open.

Professor Paul Mayewski

If we are lucky, it will take us about 4 or 5 days to travel to our next site, which is about 235 kilometres from here. Once we get to that site, we will stop for 3 or 4 days to do the drilling that we need to do and run the other experiments. Then we move again for a few days, stop for 3 or 4 days and, after four or five stops, make our way to the Pole.

Acknowledgements

This video is an extract from Thin Ice – The Inside Story of Climate Science, a David Sington/Simon Lamb film.

The full documentary film is available by emailing thiniceclimate@vuw.ac.nz. The link for streaming is available free of charge. The DVD is also available to New Zealand schools for $20 to cover costs.