Reliable machinery in Antarctica

A Valmet 505 tractor and a pair of generators from 1988 have been in use at the Finnish Antarctic research station Aboa for the past 30 years already, and they continue to support scientific research there to this day.

Antarctica is the coldest and windiest place on our planet. The frozen continent is unsuitable for human habitation, which is one of the reasons why it is of interest to climate researchers: the air is still mostly unaffected by human industrial activity, making the continent a giant laboratory for research. The accelerating pace of climate change has further increased interest among scientists in the Antarctic.

The Finnish research station is situated in complete isolation in Queen Maud Land. At the heart of its infrastructure are three Valmet diesel engines: one powers a Valmet 505 tractor and two power generators that produce heat and electricity. The reliability of this machinery is absolutely vital for the researchers based at the station.

“This tractor has served us well. I believe even its battery is original, even though the tractor sits out here on the ice. It certainly is a reliable machine,” says the research station’s mechanic Esa Vimpari.

The tractor has started right up at the turn of the key each time after being stored outside for 10 months. As with the two generators, the tractor is used only during the two Antarctic summer months when the research station is manned.

The Valmet 505 clearing snow at the Finnish Antarctic research station Aboa. The Plogen mountain in the background is 40 kilometres away.

Generators produce heat and electricity

The two generators have been used in shifts for around 12,000 hours each, which according to Esa Vimpari is still not much. The heat they generate does not go to waste, as it is used to help heat the research station. Condensation heat is used to heat glycol, which circulates through the radiators inside the station.

This generator has been used for just 30 years.

During the last research period, Vimperi removed the tractor engine to carry out a thorough service and repair an oil sump that had been damaged by a rock. After the maintenance, the tractor returned to normal snowploughing and earthmoving duties. The power of the old Valmet tractor is also called on whenever the tracked all-terrain transport vehicle needs a pull.

“Now, for example, we wanted to move a container. Whenever we need a lot of power, the tractor always does the job. It has often come to the rescue in many challenging situations,” says Mika Kalakoski, who is in charge of logistics for the Finnish Antarctic research station.