The harsh, extremely cold conditions of Antarctica make it a tough place to live and travel in. Only researchers stay for extended periods, but even then, not permanently. Conventional vehicles do not work safely on the snow and ice. So how do people get around and move heavy equipment while there? These specialized transportation methods used in Antarctica help them get around despite the climate.
People quickly came to realize that regular wheels just weren’t going to cut it on the loose, slippery snow. One way of addressing this fact was to use vehicles with treads instead of normal wheels. Treads provide more flat contact with the ground, distributing the weight of the vehicle more evenly. This makes treaded vehicles less likely to sink into the snow and become stuck there. Treaded vehicles can transport passengers and have sleds attached to them for moving other large loads.
More recently in the 2000s, wheeled vehicles have become more viable with thick snow tires that have better traction. They can travel faster than treaded types and often consume far less fuel since they are usually vans rather than tractors or tractor-like machines. However, they are still more vulnerable to getting trapped in snow and are safest on harder, packed-down surfaces and high-traffic roads nearer to bases. Some are outfitted with six wheels to offset this weakness, and these types have been successfully used in long-distance expeditions. An example is the Ford E-Series van.
In addition to carrying people to and from the continent, airplanes are also used for medium-range distances. Antarctic-adapted airplanes feature skis in place of wheels that allow them to land on the snowy ground. When people journey out far into the field away from established buildings, smaller models like the Twin Otter can carry supplies to them. For larger fixed-wing aircraft, there are runways at airports that consist of harder ice and packed snow, making them more stable than the typical ground.
Of the transportation methods used in Antarctica, helicopters have the advantage of being able to traverse uneven terrain and land with only a small space of flat ground. Most of the time, they cover shorter distances than airplanes. Though they don’t go as far, helicopters can work in conjunction with airplanes in Antarctic operations that require finesse, since they are more maneuverable. Carrying loads of varying shapes and sizes is also not a problem for them, as cargo can be attached via a rope underneath them.