Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?

South Pole to Get Highway 413

tetrad writes "The New Scientist magazine reports that the US is building a road to the South Pole. The "highway" would cross the Ross Ice Shelf and then pass through the Transantarctic Mountains (map here). Convoys of tractors will be the only traffic on the road, bringing fuel and heavy equipment to the South Pole, as well as enabling the installation of a $250M fibre-optic communications cable (discussed previously)."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

South Pole to Get Highway

Comments Filter:
  • About Time! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Acidic_Diarrhea ( 641390 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:22AM (#5150393) Homepage Journal
    All I can say is "about time!" I've been waiting for this for years. I mean, now I can finally go to South Pole Disneyland.
  • by OldStash ( 630985 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:24AM (#5150418)
    Yay! Now people can contribute to global warming and measure it at the same time!
    • Personally, I embrace global warming! Bring it on already! It's fricking freezing here!
  • by soulctcher ( 581951 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:25AM (#5150422)
    All of this money that they're wasting could go to feed all of the starving programmers... ...oh wait, I figured it out now. This is where they're SENDING the starving programmers.
  • says who? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:25AM (#5150423)
    Did they ask the rest of the world, or did they just assume ownership of the south pole??
    • Watch Out Chile! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Acidic_Diarrhea ( 641390 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:33AM (#5150493) Homepage Journal
      Antarctic is not owned by anyone, it is international territory, and governed by an international committee, with representatives from signatory countries. Therefore I would have to assume that before any highway is laid, this committee would have to approve it. I would say that if they're announcing the plans to do this, it's already been approved. I mean, it is a useful project. Scientists living in Antarctica currently have many problems involving not being able to get supplies and not being able to easily communicate their findings 'back home.'

      On a side note, "Both Chile and Argentina have gone to great lengths to make their claims in Antarctica part of their national territory. While there has been no recognition of these claims by any other sovereign state, both countries have great nationalistic pride in these claims. In August of 1973, an Argentine cabinet meeting was held in the area claimed by Argentina. Chile's president Pinochet spent a week in Antarctica in 1977 which caused Argentina to devise the boldest plans for claiming sovereignty. In the fall of 1978, a pregnant Argentine woman was send to live in Antarctica and in Jan. 1979, Emile Marco Palma was the first child born in Antarctica. Following the pattern in colonialism as seen in North America, Emile takes his place in history along side Virginia Dare. The Argentines followed with a wedding in Feb. 1979. Both countries have maintained colonies of civilian dependents living year round at their bases and tourism from bases both in Chile and Argentina has grown significantly in the last decades." So perhaps this means...WAR! Yes, let's fight over a piece of ice.

      • "Yes, let's fight over a piece of ice."

        Actually, Antartica isn't just a piece of live, like the north pole is; actually, it is a proper continent, covered with an ice sheet. Perhaps a minor distinction, but I remember Rush Limbauh making an argument that global warming doesn't matter because when a piece of ice melts in a glass of water, the level doesn't go up; similarly, he argued, if the polar ice caps melted, it would just get warmer, no sea level change. Then someone pointed out that Antartica is actually a piece of land with ice ON TOP of it...
        • Re:Watch Out Chile! (Score:4, Informative)

          by October_30th ( 531777 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @11:00AM (#5150702) Homepage Journal
          when a piece of ice melts in a glass of water, the level doesn't go up;

          If you float fresh water ice in fresh water the level won't change when the ice melts. However, try using fresh water ice and sea water. This time the water level does indeed rise.

          • That works fine if you are talking about floating ice. Much of the ice in the world that is melting now, isn't floating, it is land based, which flows to the oceans.

            If enough of this water flows into oceanic basins, the oceanic water level is going to rise.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Ah Yes! Rush Limbaugh ... the noted scientist.
        • Given that antartica was near the equator during
          the time of the dinasours, i'm expect there to
          by lots of oil, diamonds, coal, plus your standard
          exploited minerals in the area. Thus next century
          when the rest of the earth is mined out, Antartica
          will be a very important piece of real estate.
      • Re:Watch Out Chile! (Score:5, Informative)

        by dj28 ( 212815 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:56AM (#5150665)
        Actually, if you check the CIA factbook, the United States and Russia do not recognize any claim to Antarctica. However, both nations reserve the right to claim any amount of territory on the continent. So, essentially, the US and Russia hold claims on Antarctica that virtually trump all others. I also believe that 3 or 4 nations actively claim portions of Antarctica as their own territory.
        • Nations with territorial claims:

          Great Britain



          New Zealand




          Nations with (temp or perm) stations:



          New Zealand






          R ussia




          South Africa

    • Re:says who? (Score:5, Informative)

      by big_groo ( 237634 ) <groovis AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:42AM (#5150556) Homepage
      Basically, yes - and they've reserved the right to do just that.

      Check out the CIA World Factbook entry on the US here [].

      Scroll down to the very end and read 'Internationl Disputes'.

    • Re:says who? (Score:2, Informative)

      by idletask ( 588926 )

      Well, I don't know what can qualify as ownership when it comes to Antarctica, but many countries have established points on this continent:

      • USA, with MacMurdo (how strange that the highway would go this way, isn't it?), Amundsen-Scott;
      • Russia, with Vostok (with the world record of low temperature, -89C - ouch), Mienyy, Molodezhnaya, Leningradskaya;
      • Argentina, with General Belgrano;
      • Great Britain, with Haley;
      • Australia, with Davis, Casey;
      • Japan, with Mizuho;
      • New Zealand, with Scott.

      If any of this country disagrees with this highway (well, except USA, that is), surely enough they will get heard soon enough.

  • by JHMirage ( 570086 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:26AM (#5150434)
    Traffic should be pretty light, and I bet I can speed with abandon, but I gotta believe that the tolls will be a bitch!
    • There's a real job for any geek--Toll Booth Operator on the South Pole Highway.

      As long as you can tap into the fiber optic wire that passes by.
  • Longevity? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mbredden ( 641756 )
    Okay, so they're building a road across Antarctica. Are they going to clear all the snow and ice, and build the road on actual terra firma? Or are they just going to build it on top of ice? If they build it on ice, and in 20-50 years that ice melts down somewhat because of (manmade global warming/natural global warming/my ass), the road would be in fairly rough shape if not impassable. I'm imagining this is going to be a costly project and any roadway that they're going to pour THAT kind of money into they are going to expect a fairly long lifespan from.
    • It's safe (Score:3, Interesting)

      by siskbc ( 598067 )
      Except for maybe the outer few miles, it's completely safe. The earth won't warm that much, and the shelf will only melt at the edges (where it's within a degree or so of 0C now). Within, there's about no chance. The ice in that shelf is *incredibly* old - that's why they take ice cores from it to get a picture of the atmosphere tens of thousande of years ago.
    • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

      by squibix ( 602253 )
      In the first line of the second paragraph you would have noticed that the highway is described as an 'ice road' over 'the Ross ice shelf, which permanently covers the ocean.' A bit later, we read:
      Construction of the ice road involves clearing the route of snow, bulldozing rough ice and filling in crevasses. The route will cross the Leverett glacier in the Transantarctic Mountains. ...
      The road will need to be cleared of snow and checked for crevasses and ice movement each spring, says Karl Erb of the National Science Foundation in Virginia, which is funding the $12-million project. "But crevices don't change much from year to year," he says. "We will just have to monitor them."
      Also, it's my understanding that the biggest problem with a road in Antarctica wouldn't be melting, but the continual accumulation of snow. That's what buried the old dome and forced the creation of a new research station a couple years ago. It may be, though, that melting is an issue on the ice shelf, if not over the continent itself.
    • It pretty clearly states that the road is to be built over ice, and that one of the major issues is going to be verifying that no crevasses, ice shifts, etc, have occurred. Since the Antarctic continent is buried in ice sheets that are kilometers thick, clearing away the ice doesn't seem like a practical option. Sean
  • by nyc_paladin ( 534862 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:28AM (#5150451)
    Can't we just give them segways with snow wheels instead?
  • Structural problems (Score:2, Interesting)

    by skubalon ( 579506 )
    Wouldn't that have some significant problems in structural stability. I mean it's built on an ice shelf. Ice floats. Antarctic ice shelves have been known to dissapear []

    Sounds like a waste of money to me!
    • It's not a paved road. It's a smoothed compacted snow road. I bet that the majority of the Ross Ice Shelf that they would be traveling over is fairly smooth. Once they get into the mountains is probably where the majority of the cost will lie.

      I don't think structural stability will be a problem either. The pieces that break off in the article you linked to was 500 billion tons. A convoy of trucks wouldn't have a significant impact, especially in the middle of the ice shelf.
    • If it were a proper highway with rock base, it would have problems. The ice shifts a few meters per year. Cracking and breaking would be the result. They're basically using large tractors to carve a road into the ice and smooth it out to be flattened into a "road".

      Although its not floating. Its a 4km thick piece of ice on top of land.
    • The "Ross Ice Shelf" is actually a misnomer for a sizable portion of it's expanse. Much of it is actually a marine ice sheet, or in other words, an ice sheet of sufficient weight and thickness that it is resting on bedrock that just happens to be below sea level. As such it is much more stable than an ice shelf, though admittedly a little less so than a continental ice sheet.

      Not knowing anything definite about the route they are taking, I couldn't say whether they are building over the part grounded at the bottom of the bay or not, but I would assume so. Besides which, it is not like they are pouring lots of concrete or anything.
  • So the Antarctic scientists get broadband before my village in England?

    Now they'll be 0wning me at Quake, in between sexing penguins or whatever they do ;-)

  • by tbaggy ( 151760 )
    Wonder if they'll have the signs on the highway that say "Last chance for gas - next station 1000km away" about the poor soul that has to actually WORK at that station!

    • by Ballsy ( 104411 )
      Of course they won't. The signs will be in miles, since the US insist on maintaining their archaic measurement units instead of migrating to something more widely accepted, like metric.
      As for the guy working at the station, he'll be fine, as long as they build a Tim Horton's beside it.
    • Two words - Arby's Antarctica.
    • Re:Gas stations? (Score:5, Informative)

      by kievit ( 303920 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @12:02PM (#5151136) Journal about the poor soul that has to actually WORK at that station!

      Well, it ain't that bad. I work for the Amanda/IceCube experiment. I did not yet go there myself, but a colleague just returned and she found it absolutely great there. For several reasons: the natural phenomena there are quite special, for instance the halo of the sun. Also the working atmosphere is very different from normal, the "level of enthusiasm" among the few hundred researchers (of several different sciences) there is much higher, either because of the oxygen levels (?) and/or because of the adventurous feeling as if you are on a different planet. It seems to be also refreshing to be so far away from (the rest of human) civilization for a while. The place is even addictive, she (my colleague) is still feeling very homesick to that place.

      To be there as a winter-over (8 months, from Februari till November) is a different matter. Then there are much less people (between 50 and 70), typically the only activities are maintainance and routine data taking and you'd better not be somebody like me who gets depressed by longterm lack of sunlight. Still, winter-overs are volunteers and there are actually people taking this job for several years.

      Next winter (that is, during the austral summer) I will also go there for a 5 week stay, I am really looking forward to it. It is actually one of the reasons why I joined this experiment...

  • I believe this is just the right time for Danforth to tell what he saw ....
  • Suckers (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:30AM (#5150473) Homepage Journal

    hitchhiker: hey man, you going south to Florida?

    trucker: No I'm goi... err. yeahhh.. hop in little buddy!
  • There might finally be a road where I can drive as fast as I want and nobody will care...of course onn that road speeding is probably 30mph...:>
  • by dubstop ( 136484 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:31AM (#5150482)
    This reminds me of a story in The Onion's 'Our Dumb Century' book. It was something along the lines of, "US military find last unspoilt place on Earth, blows it to hell."
  • by Mothra the III ( 631161 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:32AM (#5150490)
    There was a penguin driving his car down a desert road.

    It was a really hot day, and his car is really a really old convertible. Up ahead he saw a small town.

    All of a sudden, his hood burst open and oil shot into the air.

    He pulled it into the first mechanic he saw in the town and cleaned himself off. The mechanic told him it could be a little while, so he waddled across the street to the ice-cream stand.

    He got a dish of vanilla ice-cream, and since he had no arms, just flippers, he had to fling it towards his mouth. Well, after he finished his ice-cream, and was covered with vanilla ice-cream, he waddled across the street back to the mechanic.

    The mechanic was looking at the engine and said, "Well, it looks like you blew a seal."

    The penguin says, "I did NOT! It's just ice-cream!"
  • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:34AM (#5150498)
    If there's going to be a permanent presence on the South Pole, this kind of infrastructure is necessary. I worked on a satellite communications system that talked with the NOAA polar-orbit spacecraft. At the poles, you'll see the spacecraft every 90 minutes. Near the equator, you'll only see them 3 times a day for about 10-20 minutes (usable time) per. The polar research stations use the NOAA satellites as a primary communications store-and-forward service, as they can't see the geostationary satellites. Makes communicating with the research stations difficult.

    Don't go expecting an asphalt two-lane road. Calling it a "highway" is misleading. A "conditioned ice-road" is more appropriate.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:34AM (#5150500)
    'In the next few weeks the ice road should have crossed the wide expanse of the Ross ice shelf, which permanently covers the ocean, and be approaching the Transantarctic Mountains. The mountains mark the halfway point to the Pole.'

    The road is going to be ICE, not pavement. All they are doing is plowint the snow off of a section of the ice shelf.

  • From the article:

    Once completed the road is likely to become a permanent fixture.

    Yes, I suspect it might. It's probably not going to melt, and glaciers don't move very fast.

    On the bright side, I doubt we'll see road crews lounging around the work sites: the climate will be too cold for that.

    (In most parts of the US, given a road crew of N, (N-1) will be standing around watching 1 work.)
  • After seeing this Ice Berg from Ross Shelf [] I'm not sure thats such a good idea at that location if things keep warming up.

  • by cybrpnk2 ( 579066 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:39AM (#5150529) Homepage
    We ran a story on this topic yesterday [] over on SciFi Today with quite a few additional information links. A list of ALL of our recent stories is here []. You can put SciFi Today Headlines on your Slashdot frontpage by clicking here [] and putting a checkmark in the SciFi Today box. Check us out!!!
  • The sad thing is that this 1040 mile fiber link to the South Pole will probably be more reliable than the DSL link to my house.

    Of course what can I expect for $50/month.
  • From the article: The road could be open to heavy traffic for up to 100 days a year during the austral summer.

    This is the last (for the most part) unpolluted place on earth and we are going to be running heavy diesel puking machinery through there. What really worries me is that the treaty banning exploitation of natural resources runs out in another 30 or so years and what will this highway bring? I appreciate the importance of the cosmic ray detector and for other science being performed at the pole, but we should be very careful. Highway building is incredibly destructive.
    • They are compacting snow and smoothing ice. Not building a superhighway. The enviromental impact from the road probably will be negligable. Besides, the penguines will have a new slip-n-slide to play with.

      Also, do they use diesel down there? I would have thought that it would gel up in the extreme cold.
  • The important points (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xibby ( 232218 ) <> on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:43AM (#5150568) Homepage Journal
    Since nobody seems to actually read articles:
    $12-million project
    1600 kilometres
    20 days for the inland trip
    10 days for the return to the coast (downhill!)

    (That's a staggering average speed of 3.33 KPH for the trip to the pole, 6.66 KPH for the trip to the coast)

    The traffic will consist of slow-moving convoys of caterpillar tractors, towing sleds with supplies.

    The Scott-Amundsen base is only currently accessible by air, which places limits on cargo and relies on good weather. The road could be open to heavy traffic for up to 100 days a year during the austral summer.

  • RTFA, RTFA, RTFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by andyring ( 100627 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:48AM (#5150600) Homepage
    C'mon, people, it's NOT THAT HARD to click on a link and read for a few minutes. This is not a "road" as we understand them. Basically, they will clear a path on the ice so it is free from snow and debris, and fill in any crevices, etc., with (presumably) ice, etc. As some have suggested, no, the road will not be dug down and laid on terra ferma. They would have to dig hundreds of feet to do that. Basically, they'll take big bulldozers and clear the way for large caterpillar-type vehicles to carry fuel and supplies. Now, everything must be brought in by air, and that's gotta be expensive!
  • And I bet it will be done cheaper, and finish before Boston's Big Dig []! In the south pole, none the less!
  • Do we reallly want to build a highway that cuts through the Mountains of Madness? I mean, do we really want to make it that much easier for the Shoggoths to get out of there and move to a warmer climate?
  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @10:55AM (#5150663) Homepage Journal
    The slashdot summary is oddly misleading, I think there would be a lot fewer 'wasted tax dollars' complaints if it was written this way round:

    Plane for One Kilometer Cube Neutrino Telescope Goes Ahead
    IceCube is a one-cubic-kilometer international high-energy neutrino observatory, located deep under the ice at the south pole, where the effects of the eath's magnetic fields will inferfere less with the observations.

    Because the cost of flying all the necessary materials in by air is prohibitive, $12m of the $204m budget will be spent on pushing some ice out of the way so that the components can travel overland.

  • While they're at it why not pave the rest of the earth []
  • At the Mountains of Madness.

    Come on man! Read some Lovecraft before you go toying with reality! The Elders await...

  • by westfirst ( 222247 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @11:06AM (#5150736)
    What do you be that there's something terribly secret down there that needs $250 million to develop. These weird "scientific explorations" are often just fascades for weird political operations. The Glomar Challenger, after all, was searching for Russian subs not manganese nodules or whatever the cover story said.
  • This is BAD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by simong_oz ( 321118 )
    This is bad, sad news. Antarctica is one of the last remaining great wilderness areas on the planet and they want to build a fucking highway? There must surely be other ways to accomplish this without impacting the environment so much?
  • by bailout911 ( 143530 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @11:11AM (#5150768)
    Now penguins can post to slashdot, but will we notice the difference?

  • just think, in about 75 million years, Antarctica will have started moving away from the pole and headed back up north into warmer waters again. These guys are just getting a head start on the tourism trade with an early lead on Burger Kings and Gas Stations (McDonalds can't afford a new store right now). Heck, you can probably put a billboard on there for pennies a day! You won't get THAT price when the average temperature is 60deg again...
  • This good be good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Moloch666 ( 574889 )
    I can see this as being a good thing. For one I don't think this will lead to some kind of tourist attraction adding a bunch of vehicles and pollution. This is Antarctica we're talking about, nothing to see. The south pole is home to my interesting scientific experiments, whether it be astronomy related since the view into space from there I would imagine to be much clearer of radio signals and terrestrial light. They mentioned studying neutrinos and what little I know of this area, terrestrial radio noise plays a factor.

    It's not like they are going to be building a 6 lane highway. Probably won't be much than a gravel back road.
  • by rnturn ( 11092 )

    A rest stop with a Stuckeys?

    I can see it now... ``Say that sign up ahead says `Exit 1A McMurdo' This is our turn. Better get into the right lane.''

    Or maybe ``Anyone got change for the tolls? Otherwise I have break a five.''

    (Oh you can tell it's Friday, eh?)

  • The Antarctic City Council has just announced that Segway personal transporters will be banned from using the new road.

    Film at 11.

  • I wonder why they decided to go with a physical cable, instead of RF transmission with repeaters?

    Using a cable in this situation has many inherent problems, not the least of which is the strain put on the cable as the ice moves under it. Using RF towers would eliminate that problem. Why would they choose to do it this way? Politics? Ice storms?

  • So, will there be a McDonalds?

    Fucking bullshit. You call this progress?

    Somedays I'm ashamed to be human.
  • Awesome!! Now we have somewhere new to build more strip malls!!!
  • Yeah, and how long until the first Starbucks shows up on the transantarctic?

    "Okay, I'll have an iced cappuccino, an iced tea and an iced iced mocha..."
  • What's really sad is that the South Pole will get a new highway and broadband before I get broadband, and before the Springfield Interchange [] is finished.

  • by NullProg ( 70833 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @01:08PM (#5151574) Homepage Journal
    Antarctica is jointly managed by several countries. The purpose of this "road" is to move scientific equipment to the research station that cannot be moved by C-130. See the below links, we are building a telescope.

    The cost of any commercial interest in antartica would far exceed the gain. Why on earth would the USA dig for coal, minerals, etc. at the south pole when we can get it cheaper elsewhere?

    See: ml

    Brought to you by the following countries:
    USA, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Sweden.

    Flame if you must,

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.