South Pole

The South Pole is found where the Earth's axis of rotation intersects the surface in the Southern hemisphere, presently (and likely for millions of years to come) located in the remote, bleak interior of Antarctica. The U.S. has maintained the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station at the South Pole since 1956. The physical station itself lies a few hundred meters from the actual Pole, which constantly moves relative to the station on account of the constant drifting of the ice beneath it.


The geographic South Pole marker—moved every year to account for the shifting ice. (January 2010)

Although there's more than one definition of "the South Pole", the most popularly accepted one (and a travel destination) is a fixed location in the southern hemisphere at the Earth's axis of rotation, latitude 90°S (longitude not applicable). The Earth's axis, and therefore the position of the South Pole, is constantly subject to wobbles of up to several meters known as polar motion. However, the "South Pole" that is, the one defined as 90°S remains in a fixed position for practical reasons, like keeping coordinates steady, with polar motion and the precise definition of the South Pole only relevant for certain scientific activities. Unlike the North Pole, which is nothing but a sheet of ice floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean, the geographic South Pole is located on solid ground, allowing a permanent research station to be built at the site of the pole itself. Although it was once an elusive goal that took the lives of many explorers, thanks to modern technology, it has been permanently staffed since 1956. The overwhelming majority of the South Pole's visitors are scientists and support staff for the U.S. Antarctic Program and the Antarctic research arms of other nations visiting the station. The station can also now be reached by commercial travel expeditions, although the high cost (around USD $45,000+) keeps private visitor numbers very low. The actual pole is marked by a metal rod, adjusted on New Year's Day each year to account for the movement of the ice around the site.

The "South Pole" is also defined magnetically, where all field lines of the Earth's magnetic field point upwards, which continues to be important for navigational purposes. The South Magnetic Pole drifts around, located in the Southern Ocean at 64°31′48″S 137°51′36″E in 2005 and moving by about 1015 km per year. Since there's nothing particularly interesting about it other than perhaps watching your compass not work, it receives no visitors. It is not to be confused with the confusingly-similar South Geomagnetic Pole, located at 79.74°S 108.22°E near Vostok Station in 2005 and wobbling slightly over time. The Earth's magnetic field can be likened to a strong bar magnet, with two polar opposites. The South Geomagnetic Pole lies where a line of best for this field intersects the surface in the Southern hemisphere. The South Magnetic Pole is where the actual field lines come together, since the field is not perfectly symmetrical and does not conform to a straight axis.

Of interest to explorers and adventurers is the pole of inaccessibility marking the furthest point from any easily reached geographic feature. The Southern pole of inaccessibility is the furthest point in Antarctica from any coastline, although the exact location is disputed due to the difficulty in defining Antarctica's coastline whether to consider the "solid" coastline where rock/soil reaches sea level or factor in the massive, ever-changing ice sheets. A modern calculation puts its location at 85°50′S 65°47′E. The British Antarctic Survey has calculated its position as 82°53′14″S 55°4′30″E when accounting only for the Antarctic land surface proper or at 83°50′37″S 65°43′30″E when ice sheets are taken into account. The Soviet Union built the Pole of Inaccessibility station at 82°06′S 54°58′E, 878 km (546 mi) from the geographical South Pole, and at an elevation of 3,800 m (12,467 ft). However, the station was only occupied from 1426 December 1958 before it was suspended indefinitely because of safety concerns that it was too far from other Soviet stations. While the Soviets planned to use the station afterwards for short visits, only a handful of people ever since have visited the site, which is now buried by snow except for a bust of Vladimir Lenin perched atop its roof. The Soviet station and other calculated coordinates for the pole of accessibility are all unremarkable and, as the name suggests, difficult to reach. Only the most extreme adventurers itching to cross "I've been to the most inaccessible corner of Antarctica" off their dream list are likely to be interested in visiting the pole of inaccessibility.


The first persons to successfully reach the south pole were the four men of a party led by Roald Amundsen, who reached the pole on 14 December 1911. A competing British team led by Robert F. Scott reach the pole on 17 January 1912, but ran short of supplies and died of starvation or exposure 11 miles from their last supply depot. A U.S. Navy plane with two crew aboard flew over the pole on 29 November 1929.

No one stepped foot on the south pole again until 1956, when another U.S. Navy plane reached the pole, landing this time. Over the summer of 1956'57, the U.S. constructed a station as part of the International Geophysical Year, which has been permanently staffed since. The first people to reach the pole overland (with limited air support) were Edmund Hillary and Vivian Fuchs, who arrived separately in January 1958. The opening of Patriot Hills the first privately-supported logistics camp in Antarctica in 1987 opened the way for persons not on government-supported expeditions to access the South Pole. For summer 2010'11, the company operating Patriot Hills moved to a new camp, Union Glacier Camp, which has a blue-ice (exceptionally solid) runway allowing large, wheeled cargo aircraft to arrive from South America and accommodates Twin Otter and Basler BT-67 ski-equipped planes to make the journey to the South Pole.


It's tempting to say that the climate at the South Pole is consistently bone-chilling cold, but it is not. In December it is bone-chilling cold, with an average temperature of around 28 °C (18 °F). However in July it is astonishingly bone-chilling cold, with temperatures sagging to 80 °C (112 °F). (Note that there are no "day-time highs" or "night-time lows" in these figures, because the sun only sets and rises once each year.) Snowfall is scarce; since weather systems rarely penetrate into inland Antarctica and because the temperature is often too low, hence its desert status. The existing snow does drift, however, with winds averaging a modest 12 knots. (At these temperatures, calculating wind-chill factors is fairly pointless.) Antarctica is the coldest, windiest continent on Earth and as such an expedition there surely carries a risk of danger. Freak snowstorms and white conditions (both caused by high winds) can affect South Pole expeditions and have buried the ceremonial South Pole markers (they have to be bulldozed out of the snow usually).

Current conditions can be found online.


The terrain around the South Pole is consistently flat. Ice is fluid enough to settle to a flat surface if left undisturbed, and the underlying rock isn't geologically active, nor is there any rainfall to sculpt it.

Get in

Specialized tractors and sleds on their way to the South Pole along the South Pole Traverse.

Antarctica is (for obvious reasons) the least-visited continent, and the South Pole is (because it is not accessible by sea) the least-visited site in Antarctica that is nominally "open to tourism". The South Pole is made accessible by the Jack F. Paulus Skiway, which is open from October to February each summer. As its name suggests, only ski-equipped aircraft can land here.

All expeditions take place in November through February, during the Antarctic summer/day, and when conditions are least hostile. They generally launch from Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile or Cape Town, South Africa, stopping at Union Glacier Camp in the Ellsworth Mountains on Antarctica. The South Pole is then reached as a day trip, with the exact timing of the trip calculated by weather conditions (and possibly chosen just hours before departing Union Glacier Camp). Some expeditions drop travelers well short of the Pole, leaving them to finish on the ice.

Union Glacier Camp is owned and operated by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), which has purchased Adventure Network International (ANI). Because logistical demands of reaching the South Pole necessitate a base/camp in Antarctica, ALE/ANI is the only company currently operating private flights to the South Pole (and just about anywhere else in interior Antarctica, for that matter). Other tour agencies offering journeys to the pole work with ANI, some simply marketing ANI trips as their own products, others combining their own Antarctic experience (like visits to Russian or French research stations or visits to penguin colonies) with a stay at Union Glacier Camp & South Pole, the latter of which are run by ANI.

The South Pole Traverse (or McMurdo South Pole Highway) is a 1600 km "road" leading from McMurdo Station on the Ross Sea to the South Pole station. It is simply compacted snow with crevasses filled in and marked by flags. It can only be traveled by specialized tractors and sleds, which haul fuel and supplies to the South Pole each season.

Get around

The area of interest around the Pole is quite compact, making it easy to get from one part to another on foot. Venturing farther afield should be done on skis or using base transportation.


The ceremonial South Pole marker.



There is a small gift shop located within the station.


While there is a base on site, visitors need to bring all their own food.


As the Pole is entirely covered by a massive ice sheet, those with the ability to melt ice should not worry about lack of water.


South Pole station in winter, beneath the lights of the Aurora Australis which is visible almost all winter long.

Although they are not in the habit of accommodating visitors, the facilities of Amundsen-Scott station can provide shelter in the event that weather prevents you from returning to your base at the end of your day visit. Visitors are expected to bring their own accommodation: basically, you will be camping in specialized extreme-cold tents and sleeping bags.

Stay healthy

All of the health and safety advisories for Antarctica in general apply to the Pole.

Although the ground at the South Pole is close to sea level, the thick ice at that location raises the station to an altitude of 9,300 feet (2,835 meters). And because the earth's rotation causes the atmosphere to thin out at the poles, the air pressure is more like at 11,000 feet (~3300 meters). So in addition to preparing for the coldness and dryness of the air, travel to the Pole also requires acclimatization for high-altitude travel. (See the Altitude sickness article for more.) The altitude also makes the danger of UV exposure even greater than at the Antarctic coast.

Go next

All visitors to the South Pole head north from there, as that is literally the only direction in which you can go. There aren't any nearby destinations of any interest.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, April 16, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.