South Pole

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Coordinates: 90°S0°E / 90°S 0°E / -90; 0

South Geographic Pole
South Magnetic Pole (2007)
South Geomagnetic Pole (2005)
South Pole of Inaccessibility Pole-south.gif
The Geographic South Pole is marked by the stake on the right. Geographic Southpole crop.jpg
The Geographic South Pole is marked by the stake on the right.
NASA image showing Antarctica and the South Pole in 2005 Antarctica 6400px from Blue Marble.jpg
NASA image showing Antarctica and the South Pole in 2005

The South Pole, also known as the Geographic South Pole or Terrestrial South Pole, is one of the two points where Earth's axis of rotation intersects its surface. It is the southernmost point on the surface of Earth and lies on the opposite side of Earth from the North Pole.


Situated on the continent of Antarctica, it is the site of the United States Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, which was established in 1956 and has been permanently staffed since that year. The Geographic South Pole is distinct from the South Magnetic Pole, the position of which is defined based on Earth's magnetic field. The South Pole is at the centre of the Southern Hemisphere.


The Ceremonial South Pole in 1998. Ceremonial South Pole.jpg
The Ceremonial South Pole in 1998.
The Ceremonial South Pole as of February 2008. Amundsen-scott-south pole station 2007.jpg
The Ceremonial South Pole as of February 2008.

For most purposes, the Geographic South Pole is defined as the southern point of the two points where Earth's axis of rotation intersects its surface (the other being the Geographic North Pole). However, Earth's axis of rotation is actually subject to very small "wobbles" (polar motion), so this definition is not adequate for very precise work.

The geographic coordinates of the South Pole are usually given simply as 90°S, since its longitude is geometrically undefined and irrelevant. When a longitude is desired, it may be given as 0°. At the South Pole, all directions face north. For this reason, directions at the Pole are given relative to "grid north", which points northward along the prime meridian. [1] Along tight latitude circles, clockwise is east, and counterclockwise is west, opposite to the North Pole.

The Geographic South Pole is presently located on the continent of Antarctica, although this has not been the case for all of Earth's history because of continental drift. It sits atop a featureless, barren, windswept and icy plateau at an altitude of 2,835 metres (9,301 ft) above sea level, and is located about 1,300 km (800 mi) from the nearest open sea at Bay of Whales. The ice is estimated to be about 2,700 metres (9,000 ft) thick at the Pole, so the land surface under the ice sheet is actually near sea level. [2]

The polar ice sheet is moving at a rate of roughly 10 metres per year in a direction between 37° and 40° west of grid north, [3] down towards the Weddell Sea. Therefore, the position of the station and other artificial features relative to the geographic pole gradually shift over time.

Garmin at 90 Deg South - South Pole Garmin at 90 Deg South - South Pole.jpg
Garmin at 90 Deg South - South Pole

The Geographic South Pole is marked by a stake in the ice alongside a small sign; these are repositioned each year in a ceremony on New Year's Day to compensate for the movement of the ice. [4] The sign records the respective dates that Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott reached the Pole, followed by a short quotation from each man, and gives the elevation as "9,301 FT.". [5] [6] A new marker stake is designed and fabricated each year by staff at the site. [4]

Ceremonial South Pole

The Ceremonial South Pole is an area set aside for photo opportunities at the South Pole Station. It is located some meters from the Geographic South Pole, and consists of a metallic sphere on a short barber pole, surrounded by the flags of the original Antarctic Treaty signatory states. [7]

Historic monuments

Argentinian soldiers saluting the flag after erecting the pole in 1965 Saludo a la Bandera Argentina durante la Operacion 90.jpg
Argentinian soldiers saluting the flag after erecting the pole in 1965

Amundsen's Tent

The tent was erected by the Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen on its arrival on 14 December 1911. It is currently buried beneath the snow and ice in the vicinity of the Pole. It has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 80), following a proposal by Norway to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. [8] The precise location of the tent is unknown, but based on calculations of the rate of movement of the ice and the accumulation of snow, it is believed, as of 2010, to lie between 1.8 and 2.5 km (1.1 and 1.5 miles) from the Pole at a depth of 17 m (56 ft) below the present surface. [9]

Argentine Flagpole

A flagpole erected at the South Geographical Pole in December 1965 by the First Argentine Overland Polar Expedition has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 1) following a proposal by Argentina to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. [10]



In 1820, several expeditions claimed to have been the first to have sighted Antarctica, with the first[ clarification needed ] being the Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev. [11] The first landing was probably just over a year later when American captain John Davis, a sealer, set foot on the ice. [12]

The basic geography of the Antarctic coastline was not understood until the mid-to-late 19th century. American naval officer Charles Wilkes claimed (correctly) that Antarctica was a new continent, basing the claim on his exploration in 1839–40, [13] while James Clark Ross, in his expedition of 1839–1843, hoped that he might be able to sail all the way to the South Pole. (He was unsuccessful.) [14]


Amundsen's party at the South Pole, December 1911. From left to right: Amundsen, Hanssen, Hassel and Wisting (photo by fifth member Bjaaland). Aan de Zuidpool - p1913-160.jpg
Amundsen's party at the South Pole, December 1911. From left to right: Amundsen, Hanssen, Hassel and Wisting (photo by fifth member Bjaaland).

British explorer Robert Falcon Scott on the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904 was the first to attempt to find a route from the Antarctic coastline to the South Pole. Scott, accompanied by Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, set out with the aim of travelling as far south as possible, and on 31 December 1902, reached 82°16′ S. [15] Shackleton later returned to Antarctica as leader of the British Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod Expedition) in a bid to reach the Pole. On 9 January 1909, with three companions, he reached 88°23' S 112 miles (180 km) from the Pole – before being forced to turn back. [16]

The first men to reach the Geographic South Pole were the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his party on 14 December 1911. Amundsen named his camp Polheim and the entire plateau surrounding the Pole King Haakon VII Vidde in honour of King Haakon VII of Norway. Robert Falcon Scott returned to Antarctica with his second expedition, the Terra Nova Expedition, initially unaware of Amundsen's secretive expedition. Scott and four other men reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, thirty-four days after Amundsen. On the return trip, Scott and his four companions all died of starvation and extreme cold.

In 1914 Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set out with the goal of crossing Antarctica via the South Pole, but his ship, the Endurance , was frozen in pack ice and sank 11 months later. The overland journey was never made.

US Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, with the assistance of his first pilot Bernt Balchen, became the first person to fly over the South Pole on 29 November 1929.


Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The ceremonial pole and flags can be seen in the background, slightly to the left of centre, below the tracks behind the buildings. The actual geographic pole is a few more metres to the left. The buildings are raised on stilts to prevent snow build-up. SPSM.05.jpg
Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. The ceremonial pole and flags can be seen in the background, slightly to the left of centre, below the tracks behind the buildings. The actual geographic pole is a few more metres to the left. The buildings are raised on stilts to prevent snow build-up.

It was not until 31 October 1956 that humans once again set foot at the South Pole, when a party led by Admiral George J. Dufek of the US Navy landed there in an R4D-5L Skytrain (C-47 Skytrain) aircraft. The US Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station was established by air over 1956–1957 for the International Geophysical Year and has been continuously staffed since then by research and support personnel. [2]

After Amundsen and Scott, the next people to reach the South Pole overland (albeit with some air support) were Edmund Hillary (4 January 1958) and Vivian Fuchs (19 January 1958) and their respective parties, during the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. There have been many subsequent expeditions to arrive at the South Pole by surface transportation, including those by Havola, Crary and Fiennes. The first group of women to reach the pole were Pam Young, Jean Pearson, Lois Jones, Eileen McSaveney, Kay Lindsay and Terry Tickhill in 1969. [17] In 1978-79 Michele Eileen Raney became the first woman to winter at the South Pole. [18]

Subsequent to the establishment, in 1987, of the logistic support base at Patriot Hills Base Camp, the South Pole became more accessible to non-government expeditions.

On 30 December 1989, Arved Fuchs and Reinhold Messner were the first to traverse Antarctica via the South Pole without animal or motorized help, using only skis and the help of wind. [19] [20] Two women, Victoria E. Murden and Shirley Metz reached the pole by land on 17 January 1989. [21]

The fastest unsupported journey to the Geographic South Pole from the ocean is 24 days and one hour from Hercules Inlet and was set in 2011 by Norwegian adventurer Christian Eide, [22] who beat the previous solo record set in 2009 by American Todd Carmichael of 39 days and seven hours, and the previous group record also set in 2009 of 33 days and 23 hours. [23]

The fastest solo (female), unsupported and unassisted trek to the south pole was performed by Hannah McKeand from the UK in 2006. She made the journey in 39 days 9hrs 33mins. She started on 19 November 2006 and finished on 28 December 2006. [24]

In the 2011/12 summer, separate expeditions by Norwegian Aleksander Gamme and Australians James Castrission and Justin Jones jointly claimed the first unsupported trek without dogs or kites from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole and back. The two expeditions started from Hercules Inlet a day apart, with Gamme starting first, but completing according to plan the last few kilometres together. As Gamme traveled alone he thus simultaneously became the first to complete the task solo. [25] [26] [27]

On 28 December 2018, the first Briton unassisted journey to cross the Antarctic via the south pole was performed by Captain Lou Rudd who became the second person to make the journey in 56 days. [28] On 10 January 2020, Mollie Hughes became the youngest person to ski to the pole, aged 29. [29]

Climate and day and night

During the southern winter (March–September), the South Pole receives no sunlight at all, and from 11 May to 1 August, between extended periods of twilight, it is completely dark (apart from moonlight). In the summer (September–March), the sun is continuously above the horizon and appears to move in a counter-clockwise circle. However, it is always low in the sky, reaching a maximum of 23.5° in December, thanks to the 23.5° tilt of the earth's axis. Much of the sunlight that does reach the surface is reflected by the white snow. This lack of warmth from the sun, combined with the high altitude (about 2,800 metres (9,200 ft)), means that the South Pole has one of the coldest climates on Earth (though it is not quite the coldest; that record goes to the region in the vicinity of the Vostok Station, also in Antarctica, which lies at a higher elevation). [30]

The South Pole is at an altitude of 9,300 feet (2,800 m) but feels like 11,000 feet (3,400 m). [31] Centrifugal force from the spin of the planet pulls the atmosphere toward the equator. The South Pole is colder than the North Pole primarily because of the elevation difference and for being in the middle of a continent. [32] The North Pole is a few feet from sea level in the middle of an ocean.

In midsummer, as the sun reaches its maximum elevation of about 23.5 degrees, high temperatures at the South Pole in January average at −25.9 °C (−15 °F). As the six-month "day" wears on and the sun gets lower, temperatures drop as well: they reach −45 °C (−49 °F) around sunset (late March) and sunrise (late September). In midwinter, the average temperature remains steady at around −60 °C (−76 °F). The highest temperature ever recorded at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station was −12.3 °C (9.9 °F) on Christmas Day, 2011, [33] and the lowest was −82.8 °C (−117.0 °F) on 23 June 1982 [34] [35] [36] (for comparison, the lowest temperature directly recorded anywhere on earth was −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F) at Vostok Station on 21 July 1983, though −93.2 °C (−135.8 °F) was measured indirectly by satellite in East Antarctica between Dome A and Dome F in August 2010 [37] ). Mean annual temperature at the South Pole is –49.5 °C (–57.1 °F). [38]

The South Pole has an ice cap climate (Köppen climate classification EF ). It resembles a desert, receiving very little precipitation. Air humidity is near zero. However, high winds can cause the blowing of snowfall, and the accumulation of snow amounts to about 7 cm (2.8 in) per year. [38] The former dome seen in pictures of the Amundsen–Scott station is partially buried due to snow storms, and the entrance to the dome had to be regularly bulldozed to uncover it. More recent buildings are raised on stilts so that the snow does not build up against their sides.

Climate data for Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station
Record high °C (°F)−14.4
Average high °C (°F)−26.0
Daily mean °C (°F)−28.4
Average low °C (°F)−29.6
Record low °C (°F)−41.1
Average precipitation mm (inches)0.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm)
Average snowy days22.019.613.611.417.217.318.217.511.716.716.920.6203.0
Mean monthly sunshine hours 406.1497.2195.,698.2
Mean daily sunshine hours
Source 1: (temperatures, 1981–2010, extremes 1957–present) [39]
Source 2: Deutscher Wetterdienst (precipitation 1957–1988 and sun 1978–1993), [40] NOAA (snowy days data, 1961–1988) [41]


In most places on Earth, local time is determined by longitude, such that the time of day is more-or-less synchronised to the position of the sun in the sky (for example, at midday the sun is roughly at its highest). This line of reasoning fails at the South Pole, where the sun rises and sets only once per year, and all lines of longitude, and hence all time zones, converge. There is no a priori reason for placing the South Pole in any particular time zone, but as a matter of practical convenience the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station keeps New Zealand Time (UTC+12/UTC+13). This is because the US flies its resupply missions ("Operation Deep Freeze") out of McMurdo Station, which is supplied from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Flora and fauna

Due to its exceptionally harsh climate, there are no native resident plants or animals at the South Pole. Off-course south polar skuas and snow petrels are occasionally seen there. [42]

In 2000 it was reported that microbes had been detected living in the South Pole ice. [43] Scientists published in the journal Gondwana Research that evidence had been found of dinosaurs with feathers to protect the animals from the extreme cold. The fossils had been found over 100 years ago in Koonwarra, Australia, but in sediment which had accumulated under a lake which had been near to the South Pole millions of years ago. [44]

See also

Related Research Articles

Transport in Antarctica has transformed from explorers crossing the isolated remote area of Antarctica by foot to a more open era due to human technologies enabling more convenient and faster transport, predominantly by air and water, as well as land. Transportation technologies on a remote area like Antarctica need to be able to deal with extremely low temperatures and continuous winds to ensure the travelers' safety. Due to the fragility of the Antarctic environment, only a limited amount of transport movements can take place and sustainable transportation technologies have to be used to reduce the ecological footprint. The infrastructure of land, water and air transport needs to be safe and sustainable. Currently thousands of tourists and hundreds of scientists a year depend on the Antarctic transportation system.

History of Antarctica Past events regarding the continent of Antarctica

The history of Antarctica emerges from early Western theories of a vast continent, known as Terra Australis, believed to exist in the far south of the globe. The term Antarctic, referring to the opposite of the Arctic Circle, was coined by Marinus of Tyre in the 2nd century AD.

McMurdo Station American Antarctic base

The McMurdo Station is a United States Antarctic research station on the south tip of Ross Island, which is in the New Zealand–claimed Ross Dependency on the shore of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. It is operated by the United States through the United States Antarctic Program, a branch of the National Science Foundation. The station is the largest community in Antarctica, capable of supporting up to 1,258 residents, and serves as one of three year-round United States Antarctic science facilities. All personnel and cargo going to or coming from Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station first pass through McMurdo. By road, McMurdo is 3 kilometres from New Zealand's smaller Scott Base.

Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station US scientific research station at the South Pole, Antarctica

The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is the United States scientific research station at the South Pole of the Earth. It is the southernmost point under the jurisdiction of the United States. The station is on the high plateau of Antarctica at 2,835 metres above sea level. It is administered by the Division of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation, specifically the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). It is named in honor of Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Englishman Robert F. Scott, who led separate teams that raced to become the first to the pole in the early 1900s.

Beardmore Glacier

The Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica is one of the largest valley glaciers in the world, being 200 km (125 mi) long and having a width of 40 km (25 mi). It descends about 2,200 m (7,200 ft) from the Antarctic Plateau to the Ross Ice Shelf and is bordered by the Commonwealth Range of the Queen Maud Mountains on the eastern side and the Queen Alexandra Range of the Central Transantarctic Mountains on the western.

Ross Ice Shelf Ice shelf in Antarctica

The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest ice shelf of Antarctica. It is several hundred metres thick. The nearly vertical ice front to the open sea is more than 600 kilometres (370 mi) long, and between 15 and 50 metres high above the water surface. Ninety percent of the floating ice, however, is below the water surface.

Vostok Station Russian research station in Antarctica

Vostok Station is a Russian research station in inland Princess Elizabeth Land, Antarctica. Founded by the Soviet Union in 1957, the station lies at the southern Pole of Cold, with the lowest reliably measured natural temperature on Earth of −89.2 °C. Research includes ice core drilling and magnetometry. Vostok was named after Vostok, the lead ship of the First Russian Antarctic Expedition captained by Fabian von Bellingshausen. The Bellingshausen Station was named after this captain..

Polar regions of Earth

The polar regions, also called the frigid zones, of Earth are the regions of the planet that surround its geographical poles, lying within the polar circles. These high latitudes are dominated by floating sea ice covering much of the Arctic ocean in the north, and by the Antarctic ice sheet on the continent of Antarctica in the South.

Framheim Antarctic base

Framheim was the name of explorer Roald Amundsen's base at the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica during his quest for the South Pole. It was used between January 1911 and February 1912.

Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition

The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (CTAE) of 1955–1958 was a Commonwealth-sponsored expedition that successfully completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica, via the South Pole. It was the first expedition to reach the South Pole overland for 46 years, preceded only by Amundsen's expedition and Scott's expedition in 1911 and 1912.

Antarctic Plateau

The Antarctic Plateau, Polar Plateau or King Haakon VII Plateau, is a large area of East Antarctica which extends over a diameter of about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi), and includes the region of the geographic South Pole and the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. This huge continental plateau is at an average elevation of about 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) high.

United States Antarctic Program

The United States Antarctic Program is an organization of the United States government which has presence in the continent of Antarctica. Founded in 1959, the USAP manages all U.S. scientific research and related logistics in Antarctica as well as aboard ships in the Southern Ocean.

This is a list of extreme points in Antarctica.

<i>Nimrod</i> Expedition First of three Antarctic expeditions led by Ernest Shackleton

The NimrodExpedition of 1907–1909, otherwise known as the British Antarctic Expedition, was the first of three successful expeditions to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton. Its main target, among a range of geographical and scientific objectives, was to be first to the South Pole. This was not attained, but the expedition's southern march reached a Farthest South latitude of 88° 23' S, just 97.5 nautical miles from the pole. This was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole. A separate group led by Welsh Australian geology professor Edgeworth David reached the estimated location of the South Magnetic Pole, and the expedition also achieved the first ascent of Mount Erebus, Antarctica's second highest volcano.

The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration was an era in the exploration of the continent of Antarctica which began at the end of the 19th century, and ended after the First World War; the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition of 1921–1922 is often cited by historians as the dividing line between the "Heroic" and "Mechanical" ages.

Amundsens South Pole expedition First expedition to reach the geographic South Pole

The first expedition to reach the geographic South Pole was led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He and four others arrived at the pole on 14 December 1911, five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott as part of the Terra Nova Expedition. Amundsen and his team returned safely to their base, and later heard that Scott and his four companions had died on their return journey.

Farthest South A record held for most Southerly latitude reached, before the South Pole itself was reached.

Farthest South refers to the most southerly latitude reached by explorers before the conquest of the South Pole in 1911. Significant steps on the road to the pole were the discovery of lands south of Cape Horn in 1619, Captain James Cook's crossing of the Antarctic Circle in 1773, and the earliest confirmed sightings of the Antarctic mainland in 1820. From the late 19th century onward, the quest for Farthest South latitudes became in effect a race to reach the pole, which culminated in Roald Amundsen's success in December 1911.

Antarctica Continent

Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14,200,000 square kilometres, it is the fifth-largest continent and nearly twice the size of Australia. At 0.00008 people per square kilometre, it is by far the least densely populated continent. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Kunlun Station (Antarctica) Antarctic base in East Antarctica

Kunlun Station is the southernmost of four Chinese research stations in Antarctica. When it is occupied during the summer, it is the second-southernmost research base in Antarctica, behind only the American Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station at the geographical South Pole. When Kunlun is not in operation, the year-round Russian Vostok Station is the second-southernmost base in Antarctica.


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