Antarctic Travel Lesson - Spreadsheet Based

Ages 14 - 16. Investigate the nutritional requirements for an Antarctic field trip using a spreadsheet.
science, maths, IT, food technology

Adapted from an idea and original spreadsheet produced by Carl Sheen, an ICT teacher in England. Further information sent by Drummy Small from some stuff he wrote down about days out with dog teams in Antarctica doing proper science.

MS Excel spreadsheet - click here to downloaded here.
Introductory PowerPoint including instructions on using the spreadsheet - click here to download
1Mb - 7 slides

  Resources and introduction

The spreadsheet needs to be made available to your class, so they can use it for the task. When completed, they can email it to you as an attachment, or copy it to a folder for marking.

Intended for secondary age pupils, probably best used by ages 14-16, though it depends on ability of course.

The basic premise is that you are about to go on a 100 mile journey into the "Field" - that part of Antarctica (the vast majority of it) that isn't on a base to undertake a scientific survey.

You start off by choosing your method of travel, skidoo, dog sledding or manhauling. This then gives you your timings and requirements in terms of food and fuel. Note - this kind of trip is still carried out in Antarctica today, though skidoos are used for modern travel, the last dogs were removed in 1994 and while manhauling was a common method during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration from 1897-1922.

You then need to assemble the food needed from the list that is a realistic representation of what you will find in food boxes used by travelling groups in Antarctica.

The distances travelled may seem low but they are realistic as they allow for "lie-up" days when the weather is too bad for travelling or working. High wind and white-out conditions are the commonest reasons for a lie-up. Working days are when the day is spent in one location on some kind of scientific surveying work. Antarctica can also provide ridiculously rugged terrain to travel over. There are no flat smooth areas made so by soil build up, smoothed out by worms and topped with a soft carpet of grass. Even flat expanses of ice get broken up if sea-ice and/or develop a surface of sastrugi which can make travelling really hard work, and I haven't even mentioned crevasses.

More on Antarctic Sledge Dogs

  What work could they be doing?

Field Party

There's a whole range of things that field parties can do. One of the commonest is a geological survey particularly the collection of rock samples from isolated rocky outcrops and nunataks - the tips of mountains that stick up from the bedrock above the level of the ice cover giving an indication of all the geology hidden below the ice.

Field parties also do work to verify that what is being seen remote sensing by satellites and aircraft is actually correct, not all of it, but samples to make sure things aren't going wrong - which they sometimes are.

Field parties may camp for to 100 days in the Antarctic summer months.

Picture - a modern field party is resupplied by air with food and fuel when deep in the field, many miles from the nearest base.

  Travel distances

A 9 dog team on firm snow with a Nansen sledge could haul up to 545kg (1200lb) over 16km (10 miles) per day, dogs were 32-40kg (70-90lb).

The sled weight is fairly constant (all three methods will use a Nansen sledge) as any heavier will sink into the snow further and be disproportionally difficult to pull, on a good surface it is surprisingly easy to manhaul very heavy weights.

Manhauling speed is probably on average about 6-8 miles per day while a skidoo could do 3 times this.

As for speed, allow for a 8-10 hour working day.

Dog team - 16km (10 miles) per day
Manhauling - 11km (7 miles) per day
Skidoo - 48 km (30 miles) per day


Drummy Small - Stonington Base, Antarctic Peninsula, 1971-1973

I think your travelling averages are probably about right for travelling days but they would need to factor in lie-ups which have a major impact on calorie intake per mile travelled irrespective of transport method. 1200lbs. would be a pretty hefty load for a dog sledge. My own recollection suggests an average of nearer 750-900lbs.

I don't think I ever did more than a 9-10 hour day with the dogs. Not that we couldn't have done more if necessary but unless there was a strong need we tended to conserve the dogs as much as possible given their virtual starvation diet. I think the best mileage I ever did was 36 miles in a 6 hour day on brilliant surfaces in KG IV Sound.

Weight of dog food and skidoo fuel would also be factors with dog and skidoo travel but not so with man hauling. I can't recall fuel consumption figures for skidoos after all these years but I do remember spending an inordinate amount of time trying to repair the damn things, especially after a blow when all the belts, wheels, engine etc. were packed with snow. Also, you can't eat a skidoo if you run out of food!!

Typical weights for a 2 man unit (2 teams of 9 dogs each) for 21 days = 42 man-days & 189 dog-days consumables only.

2 x man food @ 55 lbs. each   = 110 lbs.
1 x 4.5 gal paraffin @ 50 lbs.   = 50 lbs.
7 x dog food @ 72 lbs. each    = 504 lbs.
about 330 lbs. per sledge

Static weight of typical Nansen sledge plus fixed equipment (lash lines, front/rear sledge bags, rescue equipment, crevasse probe, spare ski, repair kits, spare clothes, etc, etc, etc
About 200-225 lbs.

Additional equipment:
Main tent  = 100 lbs.
Pots box   = 40 lbs.
Tent box    = 40 lbs.
Food box   = 40 lbs.
Radio box  = 40 lbs.
Medical     = 20 lbs.
Personal   = 60 lbs. (sleeping bag, sheepskin, lilo, etc.)
Pup tent    = 25 lbs.
Misc.         = 15 lbs.
About 200 lbs. per sledge

 Total weight per sledge = approx. 750 lbs.

There would also be scientific or survey / glaciological equipment but that's probably OTT for the purposes of this exercise.

I suppose we also need to factor in how many people are in the parties. Probably best to stick to the old safety margin of a minimum of two men, two dog teams, two skidoos. Not sure what an average man hauling unit should be.... probably three or four?

Here are some of my travel stats - all distances in miles

Days in field Total miles Total travel days Total lie-up Total work days % travel % lie-up % working Travel average Daily average
Autumn '71 42 137 22 14 6 52 34 15 6.2 3.3
Winter '71 54 245 26 29 n/a 46 54 n/a 9.8 4.5

Summer '71 & '72 stats by month
  Days in Field Total Miles Total
% Travel % Lie-up % Work Travel Average Daily
September 22 174.4 14 5 3 63.6 22.7 13.6 12.5 7.9
October 31 243.2 20 10 1 64.5 32.3 3.2 12.2 7.8
November 30 227 19 5 6 63.3 16.7 20.0 11.9 7.6
December 31 394 21 2 8 67.7 6.5 25.8 18.8 12.7
January 27 251.3 18 7 2 66.7 25.9 7.4 14.0 9.3
Total 141 1289.9 92 29 20 65.2 20.6 14.2 14.0 9.1