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Researchers Use Giant Balloons To Construct Tunnels In The Arctic

If you can’t beat the ice, use it!

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The land in the Arctic is known to be barren but for the sake of knowledge and research, there are a few researchers who continue doing their work despite the cold that goes far below 0 degrees Celsius. In these areas, researchers have to carry their supplies with them to their campsite–this include heavy facilities. There are options to have their supplies flown in for missions that are close enough to a village or town. Unfortunately, the regions where scientists are most interested in are hundreds of kilometers away from any civilization.

Source: Greenland Ice-Core Project

Scientists are interested in the small molecules that remain trapped beneath the ice for hundreds and even thousands of years. Scientists examine these pockets to get a better grasp of the history of the Earth. However, that far up has very little air support.

The Creation of Snow tunnels

To be able to solve this problem, researchers that work for the Greenland Ice-Core Project plant to work with the snow instead of against it. They plan to revert back to the days when people used snow as a material. Last year, the team brought along with them giant balloons that inflate to help construct the corridors of the research facilities.

Source: Greenland Ice-Core Project

The process starts by marking the area where the tunnels will be built by using flags. Giant snow machines will then carve away the snow and leave a massive trench. The giant balloons, which are around up to 40 meters in length are then laid down on the trench. The balloons are then inflated, giving the shape of a future arched tunnel.

Source: Greenland Ice-Core Project

Once the balloons are inflated, they pile snow on top of the balloons. The balloons would serve as a placeholder for the cavity of the tunnel. It will take on the shape of the tunnels as it holds the snow in place until it solidifies and becomes structurally sound. When this is done, the balloons are deflated and removed from the tunnel, leaving behind a hollow snow tunnel where researchers and travel through.

Source: Greenland Ice-Core Project

These balloon snow tunnels cannot hold large equipment of labs that operate far about 0 degrees for obvious reasons, so there is still a need for buildings that are made of other materials. However, the balloons also offer some other benefits. They are significantly lighter

Than building materials which would be used to support the roofs of the trench. Their cylindrical structure also creates an arch which makes the tunnel stronger than rectangular designs. In addition to these, the balloons can also be reused to create more tunnels. Instead of leaving a skeleton of a research facility, the balloons can easily be brought back and the snow tunnels can be abandoned without leaving any foreign material.

Source: Greenland Ice-Core Project

The researchers claim that the tunnels are surprisingly strong and can easily support the weight of snow on top. As the snow accumulates, the structure even becomes more compact which causes it to morph into an ice block, and therefore strengthening the tunnel even more.


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East Greenland Ice-Core Project

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