Antarctic Traverse

Narration: Ryan Fitzgibbons


This winter NASA is sending two scientists all the way to the South Pole to measure the ice sheet elevation along a route no one has previously documented. The elevation data gathered is needed to improve the accuracy of the upcoming global laser-altimeter mission, ICESat-2, which will measure the height of Earth from orbit. Accompanied by only two other crew members, the NASA scientists will slowly trek along 300 kilometers around the 88-South latitude, traversing through a remote and relatively unknown icescape. But first, they need to pack.

Neumann: This thing is a new ground-penetrating radar, and we're going to first unpack it and see that we got everything we're supposed to have. Neuman: And that's the main control system-- Brunt: Two sets of two, I think, so there's four-- Neumann: The reason that we're going to have one of these along is that we're going to Antarctica in support of the 88-South Calibration Project for ICESat-2, and it's a new part of the continent where people really haven't been before--we certainly haven't been before-- and for safety reasons, you bring along one of these systems. This will measure layers underneath the snow and if we measure the depth of those layers and how those depths change, we'll learn about how much snowfall we get in that area, which, again, a place that hasn't really been studied much before, kind of a question mark.

Brunt: This is also an area where we have very little satellite data. It's one of the reasons why we're going there. It's the southernmost extent of where we have data for ICESat-2, even though it's the southernmost limit, it's also the most dense area for our dataset. But, a lot of satellites are kind of blind to this area, there's very little information. So even though our expectations are that it's thick and slow- moving ice and we shouldn't have a problem, better safe than sorry. Brunt: So we'll leave here, you lose a day in transit because you go over the International Date Line. We'll arrive in Christchurch, and, you know, roughly a day or two later. From there there's a couple of just logistical busy things to do, and then we'll fly via military to McMurdo Station, which is on the edge of the continent. So at sea level, roughly. And that's a really large base, roughly a thousand beds, so it's very active, but you need that number of people to run the runways, make the food, make sure people have housing. So we'll fly eventually to the South Pole, and that's kind of cool because you'll have to fly on aircraft that have skis to get into the South Pole because there isn't any rock exposed at the South Pole. South Pole is actually at about 10,000 feet above sea level, so rather than just hit the ground and go out and set everything up and start running, we'll spend some time acclimatizing to the altitude. But we'll fly into the South Pole, we'll get our gear all set up, put it onto PistenBullys with big sleds, then we'll start driving. And our drive is about 750 kilometers roundtrip to get back to South Pole.

Neumann: Do we want to ship this? Brunt: No. Neumann: We are not going to be wearing this-- [music]