Science & Environment

UK team begins epic Antarctic crossing

The Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle will lead two massive Science Support Vehicles
Image caption The Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle will lead two massive Science Support Vehicles

A team of explorers, mechanics and scientists has arrived in Antarctica ahead of an epic attempt to cross the frozen continent by land.

The Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition hopes to establish a new record for the crossing and will conduct a range of scientific experiments en route.

These include road testing the environmental impact of biofuels in extreme environments and continuously monitoring the effects of low temperatures on their bodies.

The team hopes to make a return journey across the pole between now and the end of the year.

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Media captionThe BBC's Neil Bowdler takes a look at the machines the mission will use

Ice convoy

A convoy comprising a propeller-driven scout vehicle and two monster trucks will set off from the Union Glacier landing strip on the continent's western coast.

The aim is to travel via the southern pole and the Transantarctic Mountain Range to McMurdo station by the end of November. They will then make a return journey using the same route.

The expedition is expected to spend some 40 days on the ice and travel some 5,800 kilometres.

Heading up the team are explorers Andrew Moon and Andrew Regan, who will cross the continent along with an assorted crew including mechanics and scientists.

The team will be armed with ice-penetrating radar to spot dangers ahead.

"Some of the crevasses can be a kilometre deep, so obviously if you go down one of those that's the end of it - there's no one to get you out," Andrew Regan told the BBC, before the team departed for the South Pole.

"This time we have a ground penetrating radar, so in the areas where the crevasse fields are, we'll go nice and slow and use the radar just to make sure. But crevasses are the biggest risk."

The group will be testing health monitoring equipment that will continuously and wirelessly transmit information from the crew to a central computer.

They will collect samples of snow to test for trace metals, to track the passage of pollutants within the southern hemisphere.

The crew has also been given specialist training to help them spot potential meteorite samples on the ice.

But perhaps the main scientific mission will be to test the efficiency of biofuels at extreme temperature.

"Biofuels are an interesting opportunity for the future," said Dr Robin North of Imperial College London, who has been working closely with the expedition.

"We're fueling the Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle on bioethanol. It will be the first biofueled vehicle at the pole.

"And then with these crew vehicles, we're looking at alternatives to kerosene, looking at how we can reduce the overall impact of this type of expedition in future."

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