Skip to comments.America builds world's loneliest road
Posted on 01/21/2003 4:29:23 PM PST by Pokey78
IT HAS for nearly a century been the ultimate heroic adventure, but soon you will be able to just hitch a ride. Ninety years after Roald Amundsen was the first man to the South Pole, the Americans are building an Antarctic highway.
The ice road to the bottom of the world will pass 990 miles through the planets most hostile territory, crossing ice shelves over the oceans, and traversing mountain ranges as high as the Alps and ice sheets 10,000ft thick. It will take five years and £12.5 million to construct, but then it will take just ten days to drive from the main US base at McMurdo Sound to Scott-Amundsen base at the South Pole.
However, polar explorers and environmentalists say that the Traverse Highway could lead to an unwelcome opening up of the worlds last true wilderness and even Antarctic oil prospecting.
The road, which will operate for 100 days a year and have to be cleared each spring, will help to supply the Scott-Amundsen base which now depends totally on air transport. It will help the American researchers to operate in all weathers, and, the US says, save money.
Karl Erb, director of the US Antarctic Programme, said: Once the route has been done, you can just drive across it. It will greatly improve our ability to do science in Antarctica.
The ice road will have to be cleared by snow ploughs and bulldozers, with all the crevasses being carefully filled in and snowdrifts removed. But once it is established, it will simply have to be cleared each spring. The ice moves uniformly, and crevasses dont change that much from year to year. We will just have to monitor them, Dr Erb said.
The road will start at McMurdo Sound, in effect the capital of Antarctica, with extensive permanent buildings, an airport and a population of 1,200, and strike out almost 500 miles across the Ross Ice Shelf, a permanent thick layer of ice and snow over the Antarctic Ocean. The first stretch of the road, requiring the bridging of the worst crevasses on the ice shelf, was completed two years ago.
The traverse will then head out inland over the Transantarctic Mountains, crossing the glaciers that fill the valleys of the rugged range. It will then descend to the South Pole plateau crossing to the pole itself at an altitude of 10,000ft.
The roads will be used by convoys of caterpillar tractors, towing trailers carrying cargo, fuel tanks and an accommodation block. Convoys will travel at 5mph, speeding up to 8mph when the weather is good.
US studies suggest that one transport convoy will supply as much as one of the Hercules aircraft now used to supply the base. With all the supplies taken by road, the aircraft can be used to transport people. The Americans are constructing an 8m diameter (26 ft) telescope at the South Pole, and the road will mean that they can take it there in one piece.
The McMurdo to South Pole Traverse is part of the South Pole Connectivity Project which includes the laying of a fibre-optic cable all the way to the pole to improve communications and allow staff more reliable contact with home.
Robert Swan, the first man to walk to both North and South Poles, reacted cautiously to the project: I wont say it is a shame there is a road to the South Pole because there is already a road through the sky. But he said it still would not be that easy to cross the worlds most hostile continent. It wont be like driving down the M1. The mountains are very rugged. Theyll have engine and all sorts of other problems.
However, he was worried about what it would do to the worlds last wilderness. Roads open places up. Who says it cant lead to exploitation what if they eventually claim it gives them rights to prospect for oil?
However, any such activity would be a breach of the international treaty that governs the use of Antarctica until 2041. As treaty adherents, we wouldnt engage in any of these activities. Were strongly committed to that, Dr Erb said.
The treaty commits America to an environmental impact assessment, which it has yet to do.
Steve Sawyer, of Greenpeace, said that inland there was little life on Antarctica, so the impact was likely to be small, but he still had concerns. They must make sure there are not oil spills, and that they bring all their rubbish back with them when they make the crossing, he said.
Mr Swan had one other concern: I hope they dont dig up the body of Captain Scott. Hes under the ice there somewhere.
A ten day drive without a McDonald's or Burger King in sight.
I hope they remember to go to the bathroom before they leave.
"Are we there yet?"
Let's see. They don't want oil exploration in the arctic, because wildlife would have to jump over or squeeze under a pipeline. In Antarctica, there is no wildlife, so what's the excuse there? That wildlife might evolve millions of years from now and then be disturbed by remains of ancient oil rigs?
Well, it's not as if you can just stop anywhere along the road and go behind the bushes.
I used to do a little winter tent-camping when I was younger,
And while heeding "nature's call" in the winter was somewhat less convenient
than during camping trips in other seasons, it was still achievable with minimal discomfort.
But then, we weren't exactly camping at the South Pole...
"Don't eat the yellow snow, stay away from where the huskies go..."
Hmmm... the head of the House Transportation Committee is a representative from Alaska. Maybe somebody told him Antarctica was part of his district (after all, it's pretty cold there).
Antarctica rest area five years from now...
I've been trying to compose a stronger statement in favor of building the road, but I can't do better than this.
Ar' wee theeeere yet?
Ar' wee theeeere yet?
Ar' wee theeeere yet?
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