Special delivery crucial for climate research

An early Christmas present was presented to scientists in the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) by an Air Force C-17A Globemaster III.

A drilling rig for the Million Year Ice Core project, which will collect ice samples to form a record of Earth’s climate history, was transported from Hobart Airport to Wilkins Airfield on November 25.

Contained in a custom-built 4.3m wide blue box, the drill was delivered as part of Defense support to AAD as part of Operation Southern Discovery.

At the start of the new year, AAD scientists will test the drill in freezing conditions before shipping it back to Australia.

The tests will inform the next phase of the Million Year Ice Core project.

Warrant Officer Stephen Zantuck, Air Operations Team Leader for 29 Squadron in Hobart, worked with the AAD to deliver the rig to Antarctica.

“We visited the AAD engineering shop in Kingston in Hobart and worked with the ice core crew and their carpenter to build a box for the drill that could be loaded and unloaded safely from an airplane,” said Warrant Officer Zantuck.

“AAD Supply Services, in conjunction with the visiting mobile air loader team, has dubbed it the ‘big blue box’. “

The ADF uses different colors for boxes and crates, depending on their purpose, with blue indicating an electrical element.

The “big blue box” containing a drilling rig is delivered to Wilkins airfield in Antarctica.

“This [the box] was built to fit a C-17A as well as a C-130, in case we needed it to be moved by an American LC-130 in Antarctica, ”said Warrant Officer Zantuck.

“Further modifications were made by the Mobile Air Loader Team to ensure that it could be held securely on a pallet when transported on the C-17A for travel.”

The AAD is leading the Million Year Ice Core project in cooperation with international agencies.

In the summer of 2022-2023, a convoy of tractors, snow groomers and sled tractors will travel to an Antarctic plateau 1,200 km inland, delivering a mobile station and camp infrastructure.

AAD scientists will use the rig on a 2,800 m thick ice cap for the next five years.

The chemical traces and particles trapped in the ice sheets will provide scientists with data on how the climate and atmosphere have changed over time.

The commander of the Australian contingent for Operation Southern Discovery, Captain Don Sutherland, said the Air Force had delivered vehicles for the project since late 2019.

“We transported five Challenger snow tractors and three Pathfinder snow groomers to Wilkins using the C-17A, each vehicle weighing between seven and 32 tonnes each,” said group captain Sutherland.

“The COVID-19 environment has complicated our resupply efforts over the past two seasons, but we have maintained a high safety standard to reduce the risk of transmission.

“Everyone involved in the Million Year Ice Core project should be rightly proud of making possible one of the most ambitious and difficult science projects undertaken in Antarctica. “

A series of refueling flights in November also saw Air Force Airmen delivering supplies and equipment to the nearby Casey Research Station.