Sunday, December 16, 2012

Finally at the South Pole

At the South Pole
I finally arrived arrived at pole yesterday, although not without a little more delay.  We drove out to the airstrip on the Ross Ice Shelf at 6:45AM only for our pilot to discover a hydraulic issue with the plane, so we waited in the world's most desolate airport for the next four hours while they fixed it.
Terminal, made from an unheated trailer

Mt. Erebus, an active Volcano on Ross Island visible from the airport
The views of the Antarctic interior on the plane were a rare treat:

Transantarctic Mountains

Silhouette of plane on the ice while landing at Pole.

In total, this trip took 6 calendar days, 5 actual ones.  It didn't used to be so easy and quick.  The base's full name is Admussen-Scott South Pole Station, in honor of the first two people to get to the South Pole.  As my friend Zak quipped, Amundsen was from from Norway, knew all about dog-sledding, and returned home a Niel-Armstrong-style national hero as the first person to get at the South Pole.  Scott fancied himself a gentleman explorer who insisted on using ponies for transportation.  He got there second and froze to death on the way back out.  You can all read about them in the wikipedia links above.

I've had an easy go compared to Scott, only suffering from some mld altitude sickness.  The elevation here is 9300 ft, but the atmosphere is thinner at the poles than mid-latitudes, so the effective altitude is more like 11,000 ft.  Low pressure from weather can further increase the effective elevation beyond that.  Were it not for the ice cap, that elevation would be near sea-level.  The ice-sheet is 1.7 miles thick, forming a large plateau that covers most of the continent.  It's pretty flat and featureless as you can see from pictures of the base:
Dormitory at Admussen-Scott Station
Another view of the dormitory

The actual South Pole has to be re-marked each year thanks to the ice-cap shifting.  The winter staff includes a machinist, who's jobs include machining a new marker for the following year.
South Pole Marker for 2012

There's also a ceremonial pole that looks pretty much like the childhood image that most of us had of the north pole.  That's the photo at the top.

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