Tractor train traverse system, Antarctica

Lat. 90°0'0"S, Long. 0°0'0"E

Deep-field science support capability

An innovative system for transporting science teams and their equipment across vast areas of Antarctica’s ice is the Tractor Train Traverse.  A combination of vehicles, sledges and living accommodation allows science and support teams to live and work in remote areas a long way from the research stations at Rothera or Halley.

tractor train traverse crosses the ice
Tractor train traverse crosses the ice


  • The PistenBully 300 Polar is a tracked snow-vehicle used to support deep-field science.
  • It is capapable of  towing supplies and equipment across the ice – this is referred to as a traverse.
  •  In its role as a traverse towing vehicle, it transports accommodation units, moves snow, and can go across terrain where other vehicles cannot.
  • Its flexible platform designed to take a variety of superstructures, from cranes for loading, to passenger cabins for working, living or sleeping quarters.
  • Low ground pressure it reduces risk during unloading on the sea ice.


  • A typical science traverse will use Lehmann Sledge units to transport accommodation unit and supplies across the ice
  • Each HMW double layer black plastic sledge is capable of carrying  4 fuel bladders (a typical traverse carries 16 fuel bladders)
  • Light drawbar system for towing
  • Each sledge carries four 1500 US gallon bladders, limit spill potential and give flexibility in use.
Lehman sledge at SkiBlu
Lehman sledge at SkiBlu

Living Caboose

  • Living accommodation
  • Transported on Lehmann Sledge
  • Hub for science work and living facilities during Traverse

The tractor train traverse system supports deep-field science missions to improve understanding of what’s happening to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where the greatest rates of ice loss over the last decades have been observed. New knowledge about the stability of this ice sheet is critical for making better predictions about how the ocean and ice will respond to environmental change, and what impact this may have on future sea level.  iSTAR is an ambitious scientific programme funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It brings together leading scientists from 11 UK universities and from British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

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Benjamin Norrish

Head of Vehicles Section

Vehicles team

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