Virtual Tour - The Poles

Did you know that there is more than just one South Pole? There are actually three -- a ceremonial Pole, a geographical Pole, and a magnetic Pole.

Ceremonial South Pole

cerepole The Ceremonial Pole has many international flags around it. The flags are from the nations that have signed the Antarctic Treaty. Note that the flags are being blown by the wind -- it's pretty relentlessly windy. (Average wind speed is around 12 knots, although summer days can be calm.) Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

BJR Here's Bernie Rauscher, one of the scientists with the SPIREX team, at the ceremonial South Pole. Photo: CARA/B. Rauscher

The ceremonial pole is also shiny with interesting reflections, yielding itself to lots of fun pictures. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

It also apparently -- er -- comes off. We are working on getting the -- ahem -- story behind this one. Photo CARA/R. Landsberg

This charming fellow belongs to Ms. Gina Carmody's third grade class in Columbus elementary in New York. On the bear's belly was a hand-written message asking that travelers to let "Jim" accompany them to far-off lands, then to hand him off to another traveler. When Janice Van Cleve and Randy Landsberg went to the Pole in 1997, Janice received Jim in Christchurch and took him to the South Pole. Janice adds, "He and I were in the plane that had an emergency landing near McMurdo. Jim was the only traveling bear sent out by Ms. Carmody's students that made it to every continent. Ms. Carmody said the bears they send out teach children geography. I was happy to be a part of encouraging these children." Photo CARA/R. Landsberg

David Barnaby was a winterover for SPIREX in 1997. The first picture is Dave during summer, not long after he arrived, when the Sun was still up. The second picture is Dave standing in the same place, but 6 months later, after the Sun set. It just looks cold, doesn't it? Photos CARA/D. Barnaby

Geographic South Pole

The Geographic South Pole (the place where all the longitude lines converge) is a point established annually using Geological Survey Doppler positioning techniques and is a few hundred meters beyond the ceremonial Pole. The reason the two poles are not the same is that when you are at the South Pole, you are standing on a glacier -- 2 miles of ice. The ice slowly flows about 10 meters/year, or 1.1 inches/day(!). So even though the pole itself isn't really moving, the ice itself moves, so the markers that are stuck in the ice move, and you have to pound in a new marker each year. (The ceremonial Pole isn't moved annually, it just gets carried along by the ice with everything else.)

real pole This is the geographic South Pole. (and a picture that absolutely everyone takes at least once.) The thing that looks like a giant nail in the right front is the marker that gets set every year. If you look closely in the enlarged image (click to retrieve), you can see the markers from previous years in a row behind the guy holding the flag.

Here is a closeup of the sign at the geographic South Pole. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

And here are closeups of the 1996 (left) and 1997 (right) geographic South Pole markers. Photos courtesy Robert Schwarz.

April In December 1993, April Whitt went down to the Pole with CARA and helped establish the geographic South Pole -- here is something she wrote after the event that describes what happened.

In December 1994, college student Elizabeth Felton was chosen through the NSF for a trip to the South Pole and to be on a program called Live From Antarctica.

Felton Here is Elizabeth on the ceremonial South Pole...

pole ...and here is Elizabeth holding the real South Pole. You can see the dome in the background and a plane on the skiway.

Magnetic South Pole

This Pole isn't even in Antarctica -- it's in the Antarctic Ocean. The Magnetic Pole is where your compass points "away from" (compasses point north, away from south). It was located precisely at a position of 65.3 degrees south latitude and 140 degrees east longitude in 1986.

As an astute websurfer pointed out to me, the "geomagnetic" south pole is yet another pole -- this one is the axis of the Earth's magnetic dipole and is located within Antarctic at about 79S 110E, not too far from the Russian station at Vostok.

Will the real South Pole please stand up? (An essay with more information on the Poles.)

Go back to the map of the pole.