May 1, 2007

Expedition to Promote Alternative Fuels

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A U.S. team plans to drive from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole later this year to demonstrate the viability of alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels, a spokesman said Monday.

The 1,000-mile journey to the South Pole will take 10 days using alternative fuel vehicles driven along a U.S.-developed ice highway, said Nick Baggarly, executive director of the "Zero South" expedition.

The expedition would "demonstrate the viability of these energy alternatives," Baggarly said, without specifying what types of alternative energy sources the group plans to use.

Zero South is one of the expeditions organized by Drive Around the World, a registered non-profit group, which Baggarly describes as "a creative response to what may be the most important issue that humanity has ever faced," protecting the environment.

Drive Around the World includes leading scientists from Caltech, JPL, and NASA.

Baggarly rejected claims by a New Zealand Antarctic specialist that the expedition could help promote tourism on the frozen southern continent, where some 50,000 visitors are expected this year, raising concerns among some environmentalists that the industry was threatening the pristine environment.

"In fact, we oppose tourism in Antarctica or exploitation of this precious area of any kind," Baggarly told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Three of the vehicles to be used in the expedition will later be used as exhibits in the United States to educate youth on global climate change, alternative fuels and the importance of the earth's polar regions.

Baggarly gave no details of the vehicles, shown as snow tractors on the group's web site.

"This exhibition does not promote tourism," he said in the e-mail. "Its purpose is to create enlightenment opportunities that will inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers."

Baggarly said he understands and sympathizes with concerns raised by Antarctic academic Alan Hemmings about growing tourism in Antarctica.

Hemmings, from New Zealand's Canterbury University last week said the plan to drive to the pole came amid rapidly increasing commercialization of the continent.

Visitors could reach 50,000 tourists and support crew in the next Southern Hemisphere summer - up from about 2,500 in 1990, he said.

Baggarly said the Zero South expedition is a partnership of top scientists, environmental leaders and institutions that will develop "a science education program that will illuminate the importance of replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources."

Zero South has submitted an application to use the polar road to the U.S. National Science Foundation, which funded the ice highway from the north Antarctic coast to the South Pole to supply its science base at the pole using crawler tractors and sleds, cutting back cargo airplane flights.


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