Imperial College London

Pedalling the Poles: an Antarctic exploration with Keith Tuffley


Keith Tuffley's stunning photography perfectly illustrated the fragility of Antarctica as he spoke about his cycling expedition across the continent.

At an event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Antarctic explorer Keith Tuffley gave a special lecture at Imperial College London on 24 January 2018.

An audience of more than 300 people listened as Mr Tuffley recounted dramatic tales from his most recent expedition, which saw him and his team take a previously-unexplored route to the South Pole, travelling by snow-bicycle and without support vehicles.

Two people skiing in the distance on a vast landscape of snow with mountains in the background.

The expedition team skiing along the Ross Ice Shelf with the Transatlantic Mountains in the background.

The purely exploratory mission began with the team skiing on the Ross Ice Shelf – the largest ice shelf of Antarctica – but once they knew it was safe, Mr Tuffley started cycling, he said: "I shot past them. It surprised me, it surprised my team members. I was going two or three times the speed of the skiers."

After five-kilometres of cycling I would have to stop to ensure I wouldn't lose [my team] in the distance. This was absolute luxury for me.

– Mr Keith Tuffley

"After five-kilometres of cycling I would have to stop to ensure I wouldn't lose [my team] in the distance. This was absolute luxury for me."

"I would sit down, pull out some food, put my feet up and wait till they arrived. We did that four times a day"

However, pedalling to the pole did present some difficulties, especially when encountering hidden crevasses. "I remember very distinctly holding on to my handle bars, heading down head-first and looking down into this extraordinary cavern of ice. I had two clear emotions, one was fear, but two was the wow-factor."

"Fortunately the fear factor got to me more quickly and I was able to clamour out. It was the weight of my sleigh that saved me, it was 90 kg with about 2 kg of Grantham publications, which might have just made the difference to me being alive," he joked.

During the journey, Mr Tuffley repeatedly endured the below-freezing temperatures for just five-seconds at a time, in order to take photographs of the soaring ice sheets and vast crevasses, which he shared during his talk.

A bicycle and sled on a vast ice sheet in Antarctica with mountains in the background.

Keith Tuffley's snow bicycle in the Antarctic wilderness

One of the only depressing moments that Mr Tuffley described was finding two discarded oil barrels on the Reedy Glacier which, until this expedition, had never been traversed by humans, "it was a sad reminder of how we treat the planet at times, and the fact that we are impacting just about every corner of the planet."

Mr Tuffley concluded with a reminder of the consequences human activity could have on our planet if global warming continues unchallenged.

The Antarctic ice sheet contains ninety per cent of all freshwater on the planet. He warned that if the whole ice sheet melted, sea levels around the world would rise by about 60-70 metres, potentially submerging most of the human habitable areas on Earth.


Images: Keith Tuffley



Ms Abbie Stone

Ms Abbie Stone
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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