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14 November, 2002

Planning our Route

Date: 11/14/02

Latitude: 77 degrees 51 minutes South

Longitude: 166 degrees 40 minutes East

Temperature: -13 C / +06 F

Wind speed: 14 knots

Wind Chill: -30 C / -24 F

Wind direction: East Northeast

Meters of ice collected: 0

This journal entry was written by Gordon Hamilton. He is repsonsible for using satellite to plan our route. I asked him to be our guest author today. We are now scheduled to depart for Byrd Station on Monday, if the weather improves....

Notes on daily Life:

Our plan for today was to drive by snowmobile to Cape Evans and Cape Royds so that team members, especially the newer members, would get the feel for polar travel and start to get an idea of how their clothing would perform. At our early 700AM breakfast meeting however, we decided that the weather was really not very conducive to a long snowmobile ride and we canceled our trip ? there will be plenty of opportunities for driving in blizzards once we get out into the field. With the dayís planned activity canceled, team members spent the time taking care of small planning issues or working on material from home. There are also unconfirmed reports that some expedition members watched movies all day long or spent a few extra hours in a horizontal position in their rooms, catching up on sleep after early morning phone calls to the US.

Cape Evans and Cape Royds are historic landmarks in this part of Antarctica. Robert Falcon Scott established a hut at Cape Evans as a base camp for his fateful trek to the Pole. Ernest Shackleton established a smaller camp at Cape Royds for one of his Antarctic expeditions. Both huts remain in much the same condition they were left in by these explorers almost a century ago and are of enormous historical significance. They also serve as a graphic illustration of how things have changed from the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration to our modern period of polar expeditioning.

One of the most significant advances is that we are able to plan our traverse route ahead of time. Scott and Shackleton, on the other hand, used their compasses and sextants to keep heading south and had no prior knowledge of what conditions they would encounter along the way. For us, it essential that we know what the traverse route looks like before going into the field. This is partly for safety reasons ? we donít want to drive anywhere hazardous ? and partly for scientific reasons ? we want to visit the most interesting places and tailor our experiments at these sites ahead of time. The process of selecting this seasonís traverse route began several years ago when ITASE investigators chose to sample along a line from Byrd Station to the South Pole. Gordon Hamilton and Leigh Stearns then took that general idea and did a detailed route selection using high-resolution satellite imagery. The availability of high-resolution satellite imagery of the interior of Antarctica is itself a relatively recent thing ? the first complete continental coverage was only obtained in October 1997 by Radarsat.

Gordon and Leigh analyze Radarsat imagery for the presence of potential hazards along the route. Crevasses are the most significant hazard. These are stress cracks in the ice caused by flow (the same thing happens to the skin of cooling custard if you gently tip the bowl). Typical places where crevasses form are close to mountains where underlying bedrock disrupts the flow and where ice starts to speed up, such as near the heads of outlet glaciers. Using satellite imagery, we keep the traverse route a safe distance from those places. Gordon and Leigh also do a detailed analysis of the imagery to make sure there are no unusual fields of crevasses along the route (not every individual crevasse is visible from space, but because crevasses usually occur in swarms these are easier to detect). Route planning also includes work on drill site selection. The shading seen in satellite imagery tells us a lot about the shape, or topography, of the ice sheet surface, so that we can know ahead of time if we will be drilling in a bowl or on an inclined slope.

Once the details of the route were worked out, Paul and Gordon sat down in the spring to calculate how much fuel we would need. Obviously we need enough fuel to get us to our destination, but we donít want to carry too much extra fuel because it is heavy and takes up a lot of space. From our past experience we know that we travel 0.6 km on one gallon of fuel. This seasonís route is 1158 km long. Remembering that we have two vehicles, that adds up to an awful lot of fuel. You might want to figure out how many barrels we will need to get from Byrd Station to the South Pole (each barrel holds 50 gallons of fuel) look for the answer tomorrow. The answer will be an astonishingly large amount of fuel ? too much for us to carry all at once. To get around this, Gordon and Paul planned four sites along the route where an LC-130 aircraft parachuted fuel to the surface. We will pick up these fuel drums as we pass. The fuel calculations are further complicated because we learned from the aircrew that some of the parachutes did not open and so the fuel barrels may have been damaged on impact. Does that mean we should plan on carrying a few extra barrels from Byrd? As our planning stands now, in some cases we have a reserve of just three barrels on some sections of the traverse. It seems like taking a few extras would be a good idea, but remember that we are already carrying a lot of weight and volume. Planning an expedition is a delicate process.


Gordon uses GIS programs and Satellite images to plan our route.


Steve Arcone, plaid shirt, and Gordon Hamilton, center, are seen here reviewing maps of our route in the meeting area just outside our offices. Steve and Grodon has an enormous job finding the best and safest route possible for our traverse.


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