Veteran Glaciologist Advises IPF on “Blue Ice Runways”

The IPF is currently seeking a suitable blue ice runway (a flat area of natural blue ice with no net annual snow accumulation) capable of supporting both continental and intercontinental aircraft in proximity of the planned Belgian Antarctic Station in the Dronning Maud Land, Sör Røndane Mountains. In order to seek advice, Belgian Station Project Manager, Johan Berte, and IPF-UK Administrator, Jean de Pomereu recently met with veteran polar glaciologist Dr Charles Swithinbank at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

Although the IPF and the Belgian Antarctic Station Project team plan to ship building materials to Antarctica and then to transport them from the coastline to the chosen construction site (geographical coordinates: S.71°56'47" and E.23°20'44") on sledges tracked by snow vehicles, the ability to land intercontinental aircraft flying from South Africa would be a significant asset for the future logistical support of the Belgian station. What's more, an operational blue ice runway would help to extend the security net for the international Dronning Maud Land Air Network (DROMLAN), with an additional runway for Russian or other planes to land on in case of an emergency.

With an impressive career which has spanned some fifty years and included scouting blue ice runways for both the US Antarctic Program and Antarctic Logisitics and Expeditions (former Adventure Network International) in the late 1980s, Dr Swithinbank has accumulated a vast knowledge and expertise in this highly specialized field and was able to confirm the existence of, and recommend a possible blue ice runway at S.71°40' E.26°48'. Known as Austhamaren and located some 90 kilometres from the Belgian Antarctic Station site, it appears that the Austhamaren site could in fact accommodate not one, but two possible runways at some 45° from each other, thus providing an alternative for pilots according to wind direction. First suggested by the Belgian glaciologist Frank Pattyn, the Austhamaren site was sidelined due to fuel limitations during the last flight reconnaissance of the area in 2004.

Although additional surveys of the ice sheet and glaciers in between the planned station and the Austhamaren runways will need to be carried out to determine the feasibility of pulling heavy loads across it, and although further satelite photography analysis and reconnaissance flights will also need to be carried out to determine if another potential blue ice runway might be found in closer proximity to the planned station, Dr Swithinbank's advice represents a significant step forward in the establishment of a program of air-born intercontinental logistical support for the Belgian Antarctic Station Project team.