New Tractors To Unlock Previously Unreachable Sections Of Antarctica

The tractors' first expedition is expected in early 2021.

A new fleet of heavy-duty Antarctic vehicles is expected to pave the way for the extraction of a million-year-old ice core from the frozen continent.

Plans to bolster Australia's scientific and operational capacity for the next two decades were revealed on Friday by the Australian Antarctic Program.

Combined, the five tractors will be able to lug more than 300 tonnes of equipment and fuel up to 1500kms inland, unlocking previously unreachable sections of Antarctica.

"It allows us to move inland in all weather conditions and to access areas that we can't traditionally access by aircraft," project lead Anthony Hull said.

Once built, their first expedition will be a 1200km journey from Australia's Casey research station in early 2021 to set up a remote research station.

From there, scientists will begin drilling for a 3000m-long ice core expected to shed light on the Earth's past climate.

"The million year ice core will be a window into a time when a major shift in the Earth's climate system took place, and when the regular pacing ice ages gradually slowed," Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Dr Tas van Ommen said.

"We are working closely with our international collaborators to understand what caused this shift, because we believe it can help us better understand present day climate change."

Retrieving the core is expected to take several summer seasons. "You can typically drill, if you've had a good season, several hundred metres. Maybe 1000 metres," Dr Tas van Ommen said.

Two 'snow groomers' are part of the fleet and will flatten paths for the tractors.

Source: Australian Antarctic Division.

The Australian Government in 2016 committed $45 million to re-establish overland traverse capability and drill for a million-year ice core.

READ MORE: Sea Ice Loss And Ocean Swells Triggering Collapse Of Antarctic Ice Shelves

READ MORE: Plastic Has Reached Remote Parts Of The Antarctic

Featured Image: Australian Antarctic Division