Heavy tractors chosen for Australia's Antarctic inland ice quest

A large tractor
Getting traverse ready: A new Caterpillar Challenger in the William Adams workshop in Hobart. (Photo: David Reilly)

The Australian Antarctic Program has procured five new heavy tractors to provide the pulling power for Australia’s new deep-field traverse capability, and the search for a million year ice core.

The $5.1 million investment is part of a broader $45 million Australian Government commitment to re-establish an overland traverse capability in Antarctica.

Following an open tender process, the Australian Antarctic Division selected Hobart-based William Adams, as the preferred supplier for the Caterpillar Challenger Traverse tractors.

With a combined 2600 horsepower, the tractors will be capable of towing an entire mobile research station deep inland, with food supplies, accommodation, scientific facilities, power generation and up to 160,000 litres of fuel.

Australian Antarctic Division Traverse Manager, Matt Filipowski, said the first machine has arrived at William Adams in Hobart, where it will be extensively modified for Antarctica’s extreme conditions.

“This is a truly exciting capability upgrade for the Australian Antarctic Program, which opens up the Antarctic interior to big, ambitious science projects like the search for a million year ice core.”

“The Traverse and mobile inland station enables us to deploy scientists and support teams to some of the most remote and extreme parts of Antarctica, in all weather conditions, and for long periods of time.”

The traverse will be managed by a team of eight expeditioners and have the ability to reach up to 1500 kilometres inland.

The first traverse from Australia’s Casey research station is planned for the Antarctic summer 2020–21, with jobs on the traverse team expected to be advertised from December this year.

Major items remaining for procurement include sleds, living and accommodation units and fuel storage.

In 2016 the Australian Government committed to re-establish the overland traverse capability and drill for a million year ice core as part of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan.