Virtual Tour - South Pole

You've arrived at the South Pole after about a 3-hour plane ride from McMurdo.

A panoramic view just as you get off the plane. Photo: CARA/Greg Griffin

Jump ahead to the imagemap of the South Pole Station.

Actual quote from papers given to you:

South Pole is an inherently dangerous place. Stay hydrated and be aware of altitude sickness effects. Dress warmly and carry dry clothes and a radio if traveling away from the station. Do not travel on days with less than 1/16th mile visibility. Read the Fire Safety Guide. Be trained on equipment and vehicles and optain permission prior to use. Be aware of smoking policies. Check the [bulletin] board for additional safety information.

Plane landing at the South Pole. Photo: CARA/Bill Holzapfel

LC130 just after landing at the South Pole.

Arriving at the South Pole Station.

The station is at an elevation of 2,900 meters; however the equivalent pressure elevation, based on polar atmospheric conditions, will vary from 3,300 to 4,000 meters. No landmarks are visible on the 3,000-meter-thick plateau of ice. (They actually sell sweatshirts with the saying: "Ski South Pole: 2 miles of base, 2 inches of powder.") South Pole Station is 1,350 km from McMurdo Station and is supported entirely by special ski-equipped planes, among them the LC-130 planes operated for the U.S. Antarctic Program.

From 1955 until 1999, the Navy [Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6)] flew various aircraft in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, including LC-130 aircraft. In 1998 at the Navy's request, the Air Force/Air National Guard took-over command of the DoD support to the USAP (Operation Deep Freeze) from the Navy. VXE-6 continued to augment the Air National Guard with LC-130 flights until it was disestablished in March 1999. The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, which had augmented VXE-6 since 1988, became the sole USAP provider of LC-130 aircraft support, beginning with the 1999/2000 field season. Most of the pictures you see on the Virtual Tour date from before 1998, so most of the aircraft pictured are Navy; for more recent photos, see our page on the NYANG.

Here is an example of a ski-equipped plane that is not an LC-130 -- it's a Cessna 180 operated by Adventure Network, a private Canadian company. The pod on the bottom is for extra cargo.

Some brief history:

The geographic South Pole (90 degrees South) has long been a prized goal of Antarctic explorers. The first to reach it were four Norweigians led by Roald Amundsen in 1911. About a month later, in January 1912, the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole with four companions. Scott and his party perished from exposure and hunger on their attempted return on foot to the McMurdo Sound region.

U.S. Navy Admiral Richard E. Byrd was the first to fly an airplane over the South Pole (1929), but he did not land there. The site was not visited again until 1956, when Navy Admiral George J. Dufek stepped off an LC-47 with an advance party to build the first permanent South Pole Station. The station was established in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year under Paul Siple, first station scientific leader. It continued to function year-round until January 1975, when the present station was occupied. The new station is about 350 meters from the true Geographic South Pole, (learn more about this on the poles page) and is drifting toward the pole at about 10 meters/year.

Scientific research at the station falls into the general disciplines of upper-atmosphere physics, meteorology, earth sciences, geophysics, glaciology, biomedicine, and astrophysics.

Sun, Wind, and Temperatures!

Sun -- During the winter at the South Pole, the Sun never rises. (The 6 months of night is another reason this site is good for astronomical observations.) During the summer, the Sun never sets! It goes all the way around the sky every day. (For more information, see the tour page on Life at the South Pole and the Sun.) All this light can actually be dangerous. Because the South Pole is a high altitude site, the sunlight is very intense. And, in addition, you have lots of reflected light from all the snow. You can't go outside at all without sunglasses (with uv-blocking coating). In fact, there is a substantial risk of snow blindness, where you literally sunburn your eyes -- it can be serious and painful. (Oh, and when you go buy your sunglasses, make sure that you pick ones where none of the metal frame touches your skin!)

Wind and Snow -- There is only a trace of precipitation, and drifting is the primary factor in snow accumulation around station structures. Average wind speed is around 12 knots, although many summer days are calm.

Temperatures -- The average annual temperature at the South Pole is -50 degrees C and generally ranges between -21 degrees C in the summer and -78 degrees C in the winter.

More cold facts...

Go on to the imagemap of the South Pole Station.
Oops, I forgot something at McMurdo.

Much of the text on this page was based on the pamphlet "Your Stay at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Antarctica" originally prepared by Antarctic Support Associates for the NSF.