Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is an American research station at Earth's South Pole in Antarctica. This makes it the southernmost continually-inhabited place on the planet. The station's name honors Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott, who attained the South Pole in 1911 and 1912.

Missing image
An aerial view of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station taken circa 1983. The central dome structure is shown as well as the arches, a portion of the runway, and various storage containers and support structures.

The station was originally constructed in November 1956 to support the International Geophysical Year in 1957, and has been continuously occupied since then. It currently lies within 100 meters (330 feet) from the Geographic South Pole, and drifts towards the pole at the rate of about 10 meters per year.

Recorded temperature has varied between −13.6° C (7.52° F) and −82.8° C (−117° F). Annual mean is −49° C (−56.2° F); monthly means vary from −28° C (−18.4° F) in December to −60° C (−76° F) in July. Average wind is 5.5 meters per second (12 mph); peak gust recorded was 24 m/s (54 mph).

Snow accumulation is about 6–8 centimeters (water equivalent) per year (3 in/yr). The station stands at an elevation of 2,835 meters (9,301 ft) on interior Antarctica's nearly featureless ice sheet, about 2,850 meters (9,350 ft) thick at that location.


Facility History

Although the US has continuously maintained an installation at the South Pole since 1957, the central berthing, galley, and communications units have been constructed and relocated several times. Each of the installations containing these central units was named the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Original station (1957–1975)

The original South Pole station, now referred to as "Old Pole", was constructed by an eighteen man Navy crew during 1956–1957. The crew landed on site in October 1956 and was subsequently the first group to winter-over at the South Pole during 1957. Since the winter conditions at the South Pole had never been measured, the station was built partially underground in order to protect it from the worst imaginable weather. The worst conditions turned out to be "mild". The low temperature during 1957 was −74° C (−102° F) which combined with low humidity and low air pressure is manageable with proper protection.

As with all structures at the South Pole, the original station caused wind blown snow to build up in the surrounding area. This snow accumulation resulted in the structure being further buried by about four feet of snow per year. The station, abandoned since 1975, is now deeply buried in snow and the pressure has caused the mostly wooden roof to cave in. The site is therefore a hazardous area and off limits to all South Pole visitors.

Dome (1975–?)

The station was relocated and rebuilt in 1975 as a geodesic dome 50 meters wide and 16 meters high that, with 14- by 24-meter steel archways, covers modular buildings, fuel bladders, and equipment. Detached buildings within the dome house instruments for monitoring the upper and lower atmosphere and for numerous and complex projects in astronomy and astrophysics. The dome structures were only able to accommodate 50 people, insufficient for the increasing support, construction, and scientific personnel. Beginning in the mid 1980s, most seasonal (summer) South Pole personnel have been housed at a cluster of heated retrograde Korean war tents. In addition, a number of science and berthing structures were added in the 1990s, particularly for astronomy and astrophysics.

Missing image
The main entrance to the dome ramps down from the surface level. The dome base was originally at the surface level of the ice cap but was slowly buried in snow drift.

During the period in which the dome served as the main station many changes to US South Pole operation took place. From the 1990s on, astrophysical research conducted at the South Pole took advantage of its favorable atmospheric conditions and began to produce important scientific results. Such experiments include the Python, Viper, and DASI telescopes as well as the planned 10-meter South Pole Telescope. In addition, the AMANDA and Ice Cube experiments make use of the two-mile-thick ice sheet to detect neutrinos which have passed through the Earth. The importance of these projects changed the priorities in station operation, increasing the status of scientific cargo and personnel.

The 1998/1999 summer season was the last year that the US Navy operated the five to six LC-130 service fleet. Beginning in 1999/2000, the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing took responsibility for the daily cargo and PAX flights between the McMurdo Station and the South Pole during the summer.

Elevated station (2003–?)

Construction on a new station, adjacent to the Dome, began in 1999. Features of the new station included a modular design, to accommodate an increasing station population, and an adjustable elevation, in order to prevent the station from being buried in snow drift.


130 or more people work there during the summer. They leave by the beginning of March, leaving several dozen (58 in 2003) "winter-overs", mostly support people plus a few scientists, who keep the station functional through the months of Antarctic night. The station's winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October. Most of the scientists work in low-frequency astronomy; the low moisture content of the polar air, combined with the altitude of over 9,000 feet, causes the air to be far more transparent on some frequencies than is typical for most of Earth, and the months of darkness permit sensitive equipment to run constantly.

Numerous flights of ski-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft supply the station between October and February.

Wintering-over at the station offers notorious dangers and stresses, as the station population is almost totally isolated. The station is completely self-sufficient, and powered by three generators running on jet fuel.

Research at the station includes glaciology, geophysics, meteorology, upper atmosphere physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and biomedical studies.

Missing image
The South Pole cargo crew unloads passengers from an LC-130. In order to prevent hydraulic fluids and fuel from freezing the engines are kept running while the plane is on the ground.

Media and events

In 1999, the winter-over physician, Dr. Jerri Nielsen discovered she had breast cancer. She had to rely on self-administered chemotherapy using supplies from a daring July cargo drop, then was picked up in an equally dangerous mid-October landing.

The station has featured prominently in several science fiction television series, including The X-Files movie Fight the Future and the Stargate Atlantis series premiere "Rising".

See also

Polheim, Amundsen's name for the first South Pole camp

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