C-17A Globemaster IIIs deliver snow ploughs to Antarctica

written by Adam Thorn | March 7, 2021
A PistenBully 300 snow groomer is unloaded from a RAAF C-17A Globemaster III at Wilkins Aerodrome. (Michael Wright)

RAAF’s C-17A Globemaster IIIs in February completed their two-summer mission to deliver eight snow vehicles to Antarctica to help scientists traverse 1,200 kilometres.

No. 36 Squadron meticulously planned the 3,800-kilometre flight from Hobart to the ice runway at Wilkins, before returning within a day, as part of Operation Southern Discovery.

The vehicles will smooth a path for tractors and sleds to follow that will eventually establish a mobile inland station on the Antarctic ice sheet. Scientists will then drill down three kilometres into the ice cap to discover secrets of Earth’s past temperatures, volcanic events and solar variations.

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Commander Australian Contingent for Operation Southern Discovery Wing Commander Dion Wright said they delivered five Challenger and three Pathfinder snow groomers, weighing between seven and 32 tonnes each.

“This has been accomplished across complex and challenging seasons, which have been affected also by COVID-19 restrictions,” said WGCDR Wright.

The ‘million-year ice core project’ will see the Australian Antarctic Division attempt to establish mobile inland station Little Dome C, which will be located 3,200 metres above sea level high on the Antarctic ice sheet.

Getting there will involve a 1,200-kilometre journey involving 12 to 14 days of travel.

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Scientists will then spend four or five summers drilling down three kilometres into the ice cap south of Dome C to collect the ice cores.

“The chemical composition of the ice will reveal information about past temperatures, snowfall, volcanic events and solar variations,” said Defence in a statement.

“Air bubbles trapped in the ice directly record past changes in atmospheric composition, including concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“The aim is to unravel details about the natural drivers of the Earth’s ice age cycles and better predict how the ice sheet may evolve in the future.”

Australia currently has eight C-17 Globemaster airlifters, all operated by No. 36 Squadron and based at RAAF Base Amberley. The last was delivered in 2015.

The C-17A Globemaster is a high-wing four-engine heavy transport aircraft, fitted with a cargo bay ramp that allows it to airdrop in-flight. It can also operate from unsurfaced runways as short as 3500 feet and carry up to 77 tonnes.

One recently supported the delivery of three F-35A Lightning II, alongside two KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transports.

A RAAF C-17A Globemaster III at Wilkins Aerodrome in Antarctica during Operation Southern Discovery. Photo Michael Wright
A RAAF C-17A Globemaster III at Wilkins Aerodrome in Antarctica during Operation Southern Discovery. (Michael Wright)

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