In late November, a group of British adventurers and scientists set off on a mission to the interior of the Antarctic continent in specially designed research vehicles. Their plan was to undertake several environmental research experiments while journeying through one of the most in hospitable environments on the planet, but they also managed to set a new speed record for an Antarctic crossing at the same time.
Dubbed the Moon-Regan Transantarctic Expedition in favor of its two organizers, Andrew Moon and Andrew Regan, the plan was for the team to conduct research along the way. For example, they collected samples of the Antarctic snow in order to test the impact of pollutants in the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere on the frozen continent itself. They also drove a specially designed snow buggy, powered by biofuels, in order to see how those experimental fuels performed in extreme conditions.
By all accounts, those research elements came off very well, but the real success of the mission was the speed crossing. It took the team just 13 days to drive from the Union Glacier Base to the Ross Ice Shelf, by way of the South Pole, on the far side of the continent. The expedition covered 1209 miles in 303 hours, using specially designed ground penetrating radar to help them avoid crevasses and other obstacles.
The expediton actually reached their destination back on December 9th, but then turned around and made the return trip so that the 10-man team, along with all their research vehicles and gear, could be plucked from the ice by Antarctic-Logistics and Expeditions, a company that specializes in delivering explorers to Antarctica. That happened last week, when the team was returned to Punta Arenas, Chile before making their way back home in time for the holidays.
Taking just 13 days to cross Antarctica is quite an impressive feat. While the team did indeed use motorized vehicles to do it, the terrain that they crossed is quite brutal on any kind of machine and the cold weather played havoc with their engines at times. Throw in the very real danger of driving into a crevasse, and you can start to appreciate the challenges of such a drive. This just might have been the most challenging road trip ever.
[Photo credit: Moon-Regan Transantarctic Expedition]