In The Field

Antarctica 2010: Marooned at the South Pole

Posted on behalf of Chaz Firestoneceremonialpolesm.JPG

At long last, we’ve reached the South Pole, nearly a century after Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott (for whom the South Pole base is named) planted their flags here just a month apart. It’s definitely quite cold here, but my first impression of the place upon exiting our LC-130 was actually that the South Pole is remarkably flat. You can look out in any direction here — pick your favorite North — and literally see nothing but snow until you reach the horizon.

In one day here I’ve met some brilliant scientists, toured advanced labs and seen fascinating work, but unfortunately there isn’t the time to cover it all now (it’s coming, though, don’t worry). That’s because our favorite Antarctic event — the boomerang — reared its ugly head again when poor visibility prevented our return flight from landing.

So I spent the night at the South Pole.geographicpolesm.JPG

Remember, the term “night” doesn’t mean quite the same thing here as it does further North, because the sun never sets in the Antarctic summer. But midnight was still a quiet, serene time to be here. While most people were asleep, I threw on my cold weather gear and trekked a few hundred meters from my barracks-style living quarters to the geographic pole, a modest marker in the snow maybe 75 meters from the more glamorous ceremonial pole, which is the usual spot for a photo op. For about 20 minutes, I had the entire world beneath my feet as the southernmost human on the planet, a rare and surreal experience that allowed me to appreciate my fortune in making it this far. Though the world literally revolved around me for those few minutes, it was a time to think of others, of the people who made this journey possible and got me to the bottom of the world.

More South Pole science to come, once we reach McMurdo later today.

Images: At the ceremonial (above) and geographic (right) south pole


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