The original South Pole station, now referred to as “Old Pole”, built to support researchers during the International Geophysical Year, was constructed by an 18-man United States Navy crew between November 1956 and February 1957. The crew landed on site in October 1956 and was the first group to winter-over at the South Pole. Since the winter conditions at the South Pole had never been measured, the station was built partially underground in order to protect it from the worst imaginable weather. As with all structures at the South Pole, the original station caused wind-blown snow to build up in the surrounding area. This snow accumulation resulted in the structure being further buried by about four feet of snow per year. The station, abandoned since 1975, is now deeply buried, and the pressure has caused the mostly wooden roof to cave in. The site is now declared a hazardous area and off limits to visitors. In addition, as interest in polar research increased, it became evident that a new design and a larger station were necessary.
In 1997, a redevelopment plan to upgrade the station began. The new station, which was dedicated in 2008, is one connected, elevated facility. To accommodate changes in population from winter to summer, certain areas can be closed.
South Pole – (90° S, 139°16′W)
The station has an Atmospheric Research Observatory, the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory for astrophysics, and computer systems for research and communication including Internet access. It has collected the longest continuous set of meteorological data from Antarctica’s vast interior ice plateau, and it is well located for studies of the cusp region of the magnetosphere. Astronomy and astrophysics have flourished in recent years, taking advantage of excellent optical properties of the atmosphere (resulting from its high elevation, low temperature, and low humidity) and, for neutrino detection, the extremely clear and homogeneous thick ice below. A small biomedical research facility is present. Other areas of interest include glaciology, geophysics and seismology, ocean and climate systems, astrophysics, astronomy, and biology and medicine.
Area and buildings:
Remote science facilities are being developed with small one- to two-story elevated buildings and are located away from the main station to minimize interference between necessary operations and science.
As part of the new station, the existing arches are being re-used for fuel storage, cargo, and waste management. New arches accommodate the garage shops and power plant. The benefits of elevated structures include reduced snow drifting, increased building life, diminished environmental impact, enhanced safety, maximized solar energy use, and more cost-effective construction.
Some 50 scientists and support personnel winter at the station and up to 150 people work there during the summer. The station’s winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October.
The Dome (1975–2003):
The station was relocated and rebuilt in 1975 as a geodesic dome 50 meters (164 ft) wide and 16 meters (52 ft) high, with 14×24 m (46×79 ft) steel archways, modular buildings, fuel bladders, and equipment. Detached buildings within the dome house instruments for monitoring the upper and lower atmosphere and for numerous and complex projects in astronomy and astrophysics.
The dome provided a platform for countless scientific discoveries in astronomy, physics, climatology, and other fields, and it also provided a home away from home for the station’s ‘winter over’ crew during 8 months at the station during the austral winter, much of the time in darkness. The dome could no longer accommodate the demands of research activities taking place there, however, and each year the structure sunk deeper into the ice it was built on. Blowing snow that collected on top of it had to be removed and hauled away, burning up precious fuel and crew time during the short austral summer. The international treaty that governs human activities in Antarctica requires that buildings and equipment no longer in use be removed and the site remediated whenever possible, necessitating the dome’s deconstruction and removal.
Designed and constructed by the Seabees, the construction battalions of the U.S. Navy, in the early 1970s, the dome’s geodesic design provided a unique solution to the challenges posed to engineers trying to build structures at the South Pole. The dome was sufficiently strong to withstand the weight of snow that would blow onto it, and its round shape helped deflect the fierce winds that blow almost constantly at the site. Because the dome needed no internal columns, it provided a wide and flexible space inside, where it protected buildings housing researchers and support staff, as well as laboratories, supplies, and other necessities from the harsh polar environment outside.
The dome was designed to be flown to the South Pole with relative ease in small pieces and then assembled using a system of struts, bolts and gusset plates. While construction at the South Pole is never easy, this simplicity in design helped the Seabees erect the dome and helped personnel from the U.S. Antarctic Program deconstruct it over the past few months with the assistance of some individuals involved in the dome’s construction.
The National Science Foundation has replaced the dome with a state-of-the-art research facility that will serve science for the coming decades.
The station also included the skylab. Skylab was connected to the Dome by a tunnel. The skylab housed atmospheric sensor equipment and later a music room.
For more than 30 years, the dome at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was a landmark. Now, the iconic dome has been deconstructed for possible display in a U.S. Navy Seabees museum in Southern California.
- Is the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet.
- Named after Roald Amundsen, the first person who reached the South Pole in December 1911, and Robert F. Scott who reached the South Pole a month later.