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Daylight and Darkness
Size and Distance
The South Pole Station
Participants usually arrive
at the McMurdo station
via C-17, C-130, or C-141
This continent is the highest, driest, coldest, windiest, and emptiest place on earth. An ice sheet
covers approximately 98% of Antarctica. At its thickest point the ice sheet is 4,776 meters deep. This
ice is approximately 90% of all the world's ice (by volume) and is 70% of all the world's fresh water.
There are many penguins and abundant sea life along the coast – but there is little life on the continent,
and there are no indigenous peoples. Back to Top
The mean annual temperature at South Pole Station is minus 56°F.
During the austral summer, temperatures at McMurdo Station may reach
as high as 50°F, while at South Pole Station, the summer temperature may
reach 0°F. Palmer Station has a milder climate, with summer temperatures
reaching as high as 55°F. Back to Top
Daylight and Darkness…
Simply put, much of the area below 66.5 degrees south enjoys one
long day and one long night each year – with weeks of sunrise and sunset
in between. There are spectacular displays of aurora australis (southern
lights) during the winter darkness. Back to Top
An Antenna Rigger
Assembles a tower
For a wind generator
No nation owns Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty, which has been signed by 45 countries,
reserves the area south of 60 degrees south as a zone for the peaceful conduct of research.
Treaty nations coordinate and cooperate to maximize research results and minimize logistics
requirements. Back to Top
Size and Distance…
The continent is roughly 14 million sq. kilometers (5.4 million sq. miles). The USA is smaller
at 9.36 million sq. kilometers (3.6 million sq. miles). The area of sea ice around Antarctica varies
from 4 million sq. kilometers (1.0 million sq. miles) in summer to 20 million sq. kilometers (7.7
million sq. miles) in winter. The distance from Washington, D.C., to McMurdo Station is approximately
14,830 kilometers (9,920 miles). Back to Top
Antarctica provides excellent conditions for scientific research on such topics as global
warming, ozone changes, climatology, earth sciences, glaciology, astronomy, UV radiation, oceanic
circulation, marine ecosystems, meteorite studies, etc. Back to Top
The South Pole Station
This station, at the geographic South Pole, is on the polar plateau at an elevation of 2,836
meters (9,306 ft). It is situated on a 2,700 meter (9,000 ft) thick plateau of ice. It is 850 nautical
miles south of McMurdo. The station is drifting with the ice sheet at about 10 meters (33 ft) a
U.S. Antarctic Program personnel will reach the South Pole from McMurdo station via LC-130
airplanes, which only operate from late October through mid-February. The station is isolated
the rest of the year. The original station was built in 1956-1957 and
is now buried beneath the snow. The second station, located under
a geodesic dome, was completed in 1975. The dome is scheduled to
be dismantled in 2009. The new Elevated Station will officially be
dedicated in 2007. The winter population has recently varied from
70 to 90, and the summer population averages 225.
The mean annual temperature is –49°C (–56°F). Average
monthly temperatures range between –28°C (–18°F) in the summer
and –60°C (–76°F) in winter. The record high of –l3.6°C (7.5°F)
was recorded in December 1978, and the record low of –82.8°C
(–117°F) was recorded 23 June 1982. Precipitation is about 20 centimeters
of snow (8 centimeters water equivalent) per year, with very
low humidity. Drifting is the primary factor in accumulation of snow
around the buildings. Average wind speed is 10.8 knots.
Research includes astronomy and astrophysics, aeronomy auroral
and radio-science studies, meteorology, geomagnetism, earth-tide measurements, seismology and
E-mail and Internet access is available only during satellite coverage, currently 12 hours a
Mail. South Pole has an official U.S. Post Office. However, it does not offer any registered services
or sell money orders. Mail is placed aboard resupply airplanes and routed through McMurdo
Packages destined for summer participants should be mailed after Labor Day or they will be
An exact, to-scale layout of the Amundesn-Scott South Pole station operated by the USA
Meals. Food service at the South Pole is cafeteria style. There is no charge for meals. Take as
much as you want, but eat all of what you take. Remember, every piece of food thrown in the
garbage has to be flown out of Pole. Arrange with the food service management for takeout meals
for those ill or on duty. In addition to the regular three meals, in summer a midnight meal is
served first to night workers and then the general population. Volunteers provide assistance on
Household duties (chores) are shared by all personnel on a rotating basis.
The Station Store stocks very limited supplies of toiletries and alcoholic beverages. A large
variety and quantity of Antarctic and South Pole souvenirs are available for purchase. Only cash
and travelers checks are accepted at the store.
ATMs are not available at the South Pole due to the limited satellite availability. RPSC employees
are able to have funds taken out of their bi-weekly paychecks and obtain this money while on
station. Grantees are able to cash up to $500 in personal checks at the store each month.
Credit card usage is not available.
Housing. Housing facilities at the South Pole are very limited. Many summer participants are
housed in what is referred to as Summer Camp, which consists of Jamesways (canvas Quonset
Huts) and Hypertats (highly insulated modular buildings similar to Quonset Huts). Rooms are
somewhat private and measure approximately 6x8 feet. Bathrooms and showers are available in
three separate buildings (therefore, if you need to use the bathroom, you will need to put on your
parka and boots to get there) and each has a male and female side. Rooms also are being used in
the new elevated station. These rooms are generally single rooms with community shower and
bathroom facilities for male and female. With three working shifts at South Pole during the summer,
there is always someone trying to sleep. Please be aware of the noise level as courtesy and
consideration is a must.
Water conservation at South Pole Station is critical. Participants are limited to 2 two-minute
showers each week.
Laundry facilities and detergent are provided free of charge, but due to water conservation,
participants are only allowed one load of laundry each week.
Recreational facilities. There is a large gymnasium, weight room, sauna, a small area dedicated
to arts/crafts, and a music room.
A physician, with emergency dental training, is accessible on station at all times. Unless it is an
emergency, please call the clinic in advance to ensure the doctor is available.
The new elevated South Pole Station: Amundsen-Scott Station
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Photos and text are borrowed from the USAP Participant Guide and used without permission.