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UW-Madison Green Snowmobile Artic-bound
July 15, 2008

An electric snowmobile built by student members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering Clean Snowmobile Team is now in Greenland, on loan to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the summer to support climate research projects at the Greenland Environmental Observatory (GEO Summit Camp).

Dubbed the Bucky EV, the snowmobile won the zero-emissions category of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge (CSC) in Houghton, Michigan, earlier this spring. The goal of this event is to promote the development of clean vehicles that can be used in environmentally sensitive areas where a gas-powered vehicle would contaminate air or snow samples. The winning sled each year is invited up to Summit Camp to evaluate its performance in real-world conditions.

Summit Camp is a remote scientific research station situated at the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The highest point north of the Arctic Circle, Summit sits atop nearly two miles of ice and is 250 miles from the nearest land. Although conditions there are very inhospitable, with winter temperatures often dropping to minus-76 degrees Fahrenheit and summer temperatures consistently below freezing, Summit Camp is a permanently occupied science facility, maintained by a small crew of five to 10 people in the winter and inhabited by up to 50 staff and researchers in the summer.

The camp is only accessible via aircraft. To avoid polluting the site and tainting measurements, staff have designated certain areas around the camp, “clean snow zones,” where engine-powered vehicles are prohibited. In the past, inhabitants have transported personnel and equipment via cross-country skis and sleds. The 10,000-foot altitude and frigid conditions make this human-powered transportation challenging.

The sled went into service at Summit Camp on June 3rd, 2008 and immediately took up the task of transporting personnel and equipment to some of the remote facilities surrounding the camp. Early experiences in Greenland show that Bucky EV can tow a 1,500-pound payload 5 to 10 miles before needing to recharge. In its first four weeks at Summit, the vehicle has driven 140 miles and transported many tons of cargo, often going through several charging cycles per day. The sled is scheduled to stay for the duration of the summer science campaign, returning to the United States on August 22nd, 2008.

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