Follow Janice & Randy to the South Pole
Summary: Follow Janice VanCleave and Randy Landsberg on their journey to the South Pole.

One does not travel straight south to the Pole. In fact, Janice and Randy's journey includes no fewer than three (3) stops along the way. Janice starts in Waco, Texas, and Randy begins in Chicago, Illinois. They meet in Los Angeles, California and depart on a 12 hour flight which crosses the International Dateline and takes them to the southern hemisphere to Christchurch, New Zealand. They then travel on a Hercules C-130 cargo plane for the 7 hour flight to McMurdo, and on to another cargo plane to fly the last 1350 km from McMurdo to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station which is at an elevation of 2,835 meters (9,300 feet).

During and After the trip: You can follow Janice and Randy's adventure by checking the web page. We will report as many details of our trip as possible. On-line, you will find a journal of our trip, questions to ponder and discussions of these questions. We will....

Most of this activity can be done with pencil, paper, and computer so there are few hazards except for getting lost. That is, few hazards for the students. Janice and Randy have the normal hazards of travel plus factors such as extreme cold, thin air, and isolation in Antarctica.

Study the weather, topography, and geography along a path to the South Pole.

How do you get to the South Pole?

  • Maps of the world, and the southern hemisphere
  • Atlases
  • Globes
  • Encyclopedia
  • Computer with web browser
  • Computer with email for text version of the travel log
Before looking at Janice & Randy's route: Using a globe or a map of the world, locate our major stops on the globe (Waco, TX Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, Auckland NZ, Christchurch NZ, McMurdo, & Amundsen-Scott Base, South Pole)

Estimate the distances involved in the different legs of our journey.

Look up the latitude and longitude of our destinations and record them. Mark them on your map if it is a photo-copy that you can write on.

Go to the library or the web and research one stop. Find out things such as the weather, the average yearly rainfall, and temperature. Investigate topographical information which includes the size, shape, and elevation of the land surface. Write down your findings in a journal, either paper or electronic.

Make a table that describes the steps to the South Pole. It should include latitude and longitude, altitude, locations, and distances between locations. It may also include other details such as total distance traveled, sun rise and sun set times, temperature, change in temperature, and season, etc.

Compare your predictions and research to Janice and Randy's travel log


  1. Determine the compass headings for the return trip.
  2. Look up the latitude and longitude of your town.
  3. Determine how far away your town is from the South Pole in kilometers.
  4. Determine how far as the crow flies Chicago, Illinois or Waco, Texas is from the South Pole in kilometers. Is this distance longer or shorter than the path taken?
The continent of Antarctica is an exceptional place. Most notable are the extremely low temperatures . Get used to seeing a lot of minus signs for temperature readings. At the South Pole the average summer temperature is -20° C or -15° F; in the winter, the average temperature at the Pole is a bone chilling -60° C or -76° F (a new low was set on 8/30/97 -76.4° C or -105.5° F). We should note that the Pole is not the coldest part of the continent, temperatures tend to be lower the higher up one is and the farther inland one is.

Because it is cold all year round in Antarctica, there is a lot of ice. In fact 98% of Antarctica is covered by a thick layer of ice. The average thickness of the ice sheet is 2,200 meters (7,200 feet). That is a lot of frozen water. The ice in Antarctica contains 90% of the Earth's ice, 70% of the planet's fresh water; if the entire ice sheet melted the sea level would rise 67 meters (230 feet). Air at the South Pole is very dry because it has very little precipitation and any water in the air immediately freezes .

Much of the continent of Antarctica is elevated due to both the ice sheet and the land below it. The elevation at the South Pole, which is on the Antarctic Plateau, is 2,835 meters (9,300 feet) above sea level. The low barometric pressure which arises from the air circulation patterns and the cold affecting the density of the air makes it feel like it is 20% higher or 3,280 m (10,761 ft).

The air circulation pattern also affects the wind. At the Pole and other central inland locations on the continent there is very little wind. However, the katabatic winds which are caused by the cold air over the center of the continent descending to the coast cause winds which average 40km/hr at the coast and in blizzard conditions can reach 80-190km/hr. At South Pole, the wind averages a tranquil 14km/hr.

Speaking of the South Pole, we need to specify that we are discussing the geographic Pole. At Amundsen-Scott Base there are really three South Poles (because the ice sheet is moving, and because the magnetic and geographic are in different locations).

The Striped Ceremonial Pole is for picture-taking. The flags of all the nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty are flown around the ceremonial Pole.

The Geographic South Pole - ~ 50 meters away along the 160 west longitude line, sliding with the ice sheet, and relocated each year by the US Geological Service.

The Geomagnetic Dip Pole (magnetic South) - over 2,700 km (1,600 miles) from the geographic pole.

Also, because Antarctica is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are in reverse of those in the northern hemisphere. So June 21 is the middle of the winter and December 21 is the middle of the summer. At the Pole there is only one day and one night each year! The Pole is in total darkness, aside from some moon light and star light, for four months every year.

Earthsearch: A Kid's Geography Museum in a Book by John Cassidy Klutz Press, Palo Alto ISBN 1-878257-74-9
GPS Overview at Univ Texas (Austin)
Web site: CIA World Fact Book.