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Lesson Plan on Antarctic Travel - Spreadsheet Based

Subjects - ICT, Spreadsheet, Science, Food Technology Overview - Investigate the nutritional requirements for an Antarctic field trip using a spreadsheet Age range:

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The following lesson ideas and resources have been adapted from an idea and original spreadsheet generously sent to CoolAntarctica by Carl Sheen, an ICT teacher in England to be shared with the world. I then wrote it on my to-do list where it stayed for months on end before I adapted it somewhat using further information sent to me by Drummy Small from his encyclopedic memory of things Antarctic and some stuff he wrote down about days out with dog teams in Antarctica doing proper science.

Resources and introduction

The MS Excel spreadsheet can be downloaded here.

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.

This is intended for secondary age pupils, probably best used by ages 13-16, 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 undergo 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.

More on Antarctic Sledge Dogs

What work could they be doing?

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.

Left - a modern field party is resupplied by air when deep in the field, many miles from the nearest base.


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

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.

Paul Ward - webmaster

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

Drummy Small - Stonington Base 1971-1973

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