A HALF CENTURY OF ANTARCTIC GEOSCIENCE EXPLORATION, 1957-2013
Starting in 1957, US began a series of oversnow traverses making seismic reflection ice soundings (and other geophysical and glaciological studies) to determine the thickness and budget of the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS). USSR. and France made similar IGY traverses. Geology and mapping were not part of the IGY program, because of the claims issue and mineral resources, but traverse parties did geologic work, where mountains were discovered. The traverses continued through 1966, and resulted in approximate surface elevation, ice thickness and bed topography of Antarctica.
The vacuum tube dictated logistics. Seismic equipment, including heavy batteries, weighed ~500 kg. Therefore a tracked Sno-Cat was used; usually three. Each used 100 kg/day of fuel. A resupply flight could carry only ~600 kg, varying as to range and type of aircraft. Other than the resupply of South Pole and Byrd stations, the major air logistic effort of the US IGY program was traverse support
On the Filchner Ice Shelf Traverse, 1957-58, we encountered many crevasses. Vehicles broke through snow bridges and one man fell in deep. Fortunately, there were no crevasse deaths and only one serious injury on US traverses, in contrast to a US aircraft death rate of 3.8/year from 1955-61.
The oversnow traverses of the IGY employed the inductive method of research, with the general objectives of defining the AIS surface elevation, thickness, snow accumulation and temperature. In contrast, Antarctic research today employs deductive logic with narrowly defined objectives and testing of hypotheses. This change has been necessary because of expense, and competition of proposals by many scientists. Nonetheless, something has been lost by this approach, and there is still the need for "exploration" types of research in the still unknown, vast continent of Antarctica.