South Pole

Content Cover Image

South Pole Station Crew, 2011. Source: National Science Foundation; Credit: Peter Rejcek.

The South Pole, also known as the Geographic South Pole or Terrestrial South Pole, is the southernmost point on the surface of the Earth. It lies on the continent of Antarctica, on the opposite side of the Earth from the North Pole. 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 should not be confused with the South Magnetic Pole.


caption The South Pole.

For most purposes, the Geographic South Pole is defined as the southern point of the two points where the Earth's axis of rotation intersects its surface (the other being the Geographic North Pole). At the South Pole all directions face North. The 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°W.  

The precise position of the pole moves because the Earth's axis of rotation is actually subject to slight irregular and periodic variations, due to effects such as the Earth not being a perfect sphere, tidal forces, motions in the Earth's core and mantle, and pressure variations in the oceans. These wobbles can make the exact location of the pole to move by a few meters per year, with the pole moving in a circling or a spiraling path over longer periods.

The polar ice sheet is moving at a rate of roughly 10 meters per year in a direction between 37° and 40° west of grid north[1], down towards the Weddell Sea.  Thus, the exact position of the Pole, relative to the ice surface and the buildings constructed on it, gradually shifts over time.

caption The Geographic South Pole

The Geographic South Pole is 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, windswept, icy plateau at an altitude of 2835 meters (9306 ft), about 800 miles (1300km) from the nearest sea at McMurdo Sound. The ice is estimated to be about 2700 meters (9000 ft) thick at the Pole, so the land surface under the ice sheet is actually near sea level[2].

The Geographic South Pole is marked by a small sign and a stake in the ice pack, which are repositioned each year on New Year’s Day to compensate for the movement of the ice. 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 9301 Feet (2835 meters)[3].  

caption The Ceremonial South Pole.

The Ceremonial South Pole is an area set aside for photo opportunities at the South Pole Station. It is located a short distance from the Geographic South Pole, and consists of a metallic sphere on a plinth, surrounded by the flags of the Antarctic Treaty signatory states. 

The ceremonial marker is moved every two to three years to keep the walking distance to the Geographical South Pole minimal.

Another so-called "South Pole" is the Pole of Inaccessibility, the location in the Antarctic continent that is furthest from the ocean, and therefore more difficult to reach than the Geographic South Pole itself.   This location is approximately 878 km from the true Pole.


Also see Exploration of the Antarctic

caption Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The ceremonial pole and flags can be seen in the background, slightly to the left of center, 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 buildup.

The first humans to reach the Geographic South Pole were Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his party on December 14, 1911. Amundsen named his camp Polheim and the entire plateau surrounding the Pole,Haakon VII's Vidde, in honour of King Haakon VII of Norway. Amundsen's competitor Robert Falcon Scott, with four other men from the Terra Nova Expedition, reached the Pole a month later. On the return trip, Scott and his four companions all died of starvation and extreme cold. In 1914 British explorer 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.

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 November 29, 1929. However, it was not until 31 October 1956 that men once again set foot at the 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 inaugurated a permanent US presence. The original station was replaced by a new dome-shaped station in 1975. The station was originally constructed 400 meters from the geographic South Pole; however, ice movement, at the rate of 10 meters per year, will eventually carry the station over the actual Pole[4]. A third larger station was openned in January, 2008[5].

After Amundsen and Scott, the next people to reach the South Pole ''overland'' (albeit with some air support) were Edmund Hillary (January 4, 1958) and Vivian Fuchs (January 19, 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. On December 30 1989, Arved Fuchs and Reinhold Messner were the first to reach the South Pole without animal or motorised help, using only skis and the help of wind.The fastest unsupported walking journey to the Geographic South Pole from the ocean is 39 days from Hercules Inlet and was set in 2007 by Hannah McKeand.

Territorial Claims

The South Pole is managed under the the Antarctic Treaty System which recognizes neither permanent population nor citizenship or government in Antarctica; neither recognizes or disputes any territorial claims; emphasizes peaceful scientific activity; and limits military activity to support of such peaceful endeavors. The Antarctic Treaty System has been the umbrella for numerous agreements aimed at protecting the flora and fauna, natural resources and environment of Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty System provides the framework by which the nations of the world continue their exploration of the Antarctic.

Over the years, seven nations have made direct territorial claims in Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Norway. The claim made by each is pie shaped extending from a wide stretch of coast to a point at the South Pole. Others have reserved the right to make claims. When the presence of these and other nations increased in the build up to the International Geophysical Year, occurred against a backdrop of the Cold War, diplomatic activity for a framework to regulate activity in Antarctic a became serious. In 1959, twelve nations joined the Antarctic Treaty System (now 46 nations) and this agreement superceeds any territorial claims in all practical matters. 


During the southern winter, the South Pole receives no sunlight at all. In the summer, the Sun (though continuously above the horizon) is always low in the sky. 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 m), 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[6]). Temperatures at the South Pole are much lower than at the North Pole, primarily because the South Pole is located at altitude in the middle of a continental land mass, while the North Pole is at sea level in the middle of an ocean (which acts as a reservoir of heat).

In midsummer, as the Sun reaches its maximum elevation of about 23.5 degrees, temperatures at the South Pole average around −25 °C (−12 °F).  As the six-month 'day' wears on and the Sun gets lower, temperatures drop as well, with temperatures around sunset (late March) and sunrise (late September) being about −45 °C (−49 °F). In winter, the temperature remains steady at around −65 °C (−85 °F). The highest temperature ever recorded at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is −13.6 °C (7.5 °F: December 27, 1978), and the lowest is −82.8 °C (−117.0 °F: June 23, 1982)[7] (however, this is not the lowest recorded anywhere on Earth, that being −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F) at Vostok Station on July 21, 1983).

The South Pole has a desert climate, almost never receiving any precipitation. Air humidity is near zero. However, high winds can cause the blowing of snowfall, and the accumulation of snow amounts to about 20 cm per year[8]. The dome seen in the pictures is partially buried due to snow storms, and the entrance to the dome has to be regularly bulldozed to uncover it. More recent buildings are raised on stilts so that the snow does not build up against the side of them.

'''Average monthly temperatures and precipitation (Celsius, millimetres) at the South Pole, Antarctica'''


 Month  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec  Year 
 Avg high (°C)  -25 -37  -50  -52  -53   -55  -55 -55   -55  -47  -36 -26  -45 
 Avg low (°C)  -28  -42 -56  -60  -61  -61   -63  -62  -62  -53 -39  -28  -51 
 Precipitation (millimeters)   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -  2.5


'''Average monthly temperatures and precipitation (Fahrenheit, inches) at the South Pole, Antarctica'''


 Month  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec  Year 
 Avg high (°F)  -14 -35 -58  -63  -64   -65  -68 -68   -67  -54  -33 -15  -50
 Avg low (°F)  -20  -44 -70  -76 -78  -79   -82  -81  -81  -64 -39  -20  -61 
 Precipitation (inches)   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -  0.1




In most places on Earth, local time is more-or-less synchronised to the position of the sun in the sky. This line of reasoning fails at the South Pole, which has 'days' lasting for a whole year. Another way of looking at it is to note that all time zones converge at the pole. 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. This is because the USA flies its resupply missions ("Operation Deep Freeze") out of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Flora and Fauna

Due to its exceptionally harsh climate, there are no native resident plants or animals at the South Pole. Remarkably, birds like skuas staying hundreds of miles from their native habitat near the coast show up at the Pole about once every two years[9].

In 2000 it was reported that microbes had been detected living in the South Pole ice, though scientists think it unlikely that these extremophile "snow bacteria" evolved in Antarctica[10]

See Also


  1. ^ Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs.
  2. ^| title=Where is the real Pole really? | accessdate=2008-03-25
  3. ^| author=Kiefer, Alex | title=South Pole Marker | month=January | year=1994 | accessdate=2008-03-24
  4. ^Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs
  5. ^ [NSF Dedicates New South Pole Station, January 15, 2008
  6. ^Science question of the week, Goddard Space Flight Center
  7. ^Your stay at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs
  8. ^Initial environmental evaluation – development of blue-ice and compacted-snow runways, National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, April 9, 1993
  9. ^Mark Sabbatini, "Non-human life form seen at Pole", ''The Antarctic Sun'', 5 January 2003.
  10. ^"Snow microbes found at South Pole", BBC News, 10 July, 2000

External Links

  1. NOAA South Pole Webcam
  2. 360° Panoramas of the South Pole
  3. Virtual tour of the South Pole
  4. Images of this location are available at the Degree Confluence Project
  5. South Pole Photo Gallery
  6. Current weather conditions at the South Pole (Amundsen-Scott Station)
  7. Poles by the Australian Antarctic Division
  8. The Antarctic Sun - Online news source for the U.S. Antarctic Program
  9. Big Dead Place
  10. UK team makes polar trek history - BBC News article on first expedition to Pole of Inaccessibility without mechanical assistance
  11. Aerial photography of Amundsen-Scott station and South Pole

Note: This article uses material from the Wikipedia article South Pole that was accessed on November 27, 2008>>. The Author(s) and Topic Editor(s) associated with this article may have significantly modified the content derived from Wikipedia with original content or with content drawn from other sources. All content from Wikipedia has been reviewed and approved by those Author(s) and Topic Editor(s), and is subject to the same  peer review process as other content in the EoE. The current version of the Wikipedia article may differ from the version that existed on the date of access. This article is licensed under the [ GNU Free Documentation License 1.2]. See the EoE Wikipedia Policy for more information








(2012). South Pole. Retrieved from


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