Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Americans have occupied the geographic South Pole
continuously since November 1956.

The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is the United States scientific research station at the South Pole. It is the southernmost point under the jurisdiction (not sovereignty) of the United States. The station has been continuously occupied since it was built and has been rebuilt, expanded, and upgraded several times.

The station was constructed by U.S. Navy Seabees[1] led by LTJG Richard Bowers, the eight-man Advance Party being transported by the VX-6 Air Squadron in two R4Ds on November 20, 1956. The U.S. Eighteenth Air Force’s C-124 Globemaster IIs airdropped most of the equipment and building material. The buildings were constructed from prefabricated four-by-eight-foot modular panels.

Exterior surfaces were four inches thick, with an aluminum interior surface, and a plywood exterior surface, sandwiching fiberglass. Skylights were the only windows in flat uniform roof levels, while buildings were connected by a burlap and chicken wire-covered tunnel system.

Fact

Americans have occupied the geographic South Pole
continuously since November 1956.

The original South Pole station is now referred to as the “Old Pole”.

On January 3, 1958, Sir Edmund Hillary’s team from New Zealand, part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, reached the station over land from Scott Base, followed shortly by Sir Vivian Fuchs’ British scientific component.

The station was abandoned in 1975 and became deeply buried, with the pressure causing the mostly wooden roof to cave in. The station was demolished in December 2010, after an equipment operator fell through the structure doing snow stability testing for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. Born in Borge, Østfold, Norway, July 16, 1872, and died June 18, 1928, he began his career as a polar explorer as the first mate on Adrien de Gerlache’s Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897–1899. In 1909, Amundsen began planning for a South Pole expedition. He left Norway in June 1910 on the ship Fram and reached Antarctica in January 1911. His party established a camp at the Bay of Whales and a series of supply depots on the Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf) before setting out for the pole in October. The party of five, led by Amundsen, became the first to successfully reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott was born on June 6, 1868, and died on March 29, 1912. He was a British Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery expedition of 1901–1904 and the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition of 1910–1913. On the first expedition, he set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S and discovered the Antarctic Plateau, on which the South Pole is located. On the second venture, Scott led a party of five that reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912, less than five weeks after Amundsen’s South Pole expedition.

The station was moved in 1975 to the newly constructed Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome 160 feet wide by 52 feet high, with 46 by 79 feet steel archways. One served as the entry to the dome and it had a transverse arch that contained modular buildings for the station’s maintenance, fuel bladders, power plant, snow melter, equipment, and vehicles.

Individual buildings within the dome contained the dorms, galley, recreational center, post office, and labs for monitoring the upper and lower atmosphere and numerous other complex projects in astronomy and astrophysics. The station also included the Skylab, a box-shaped tower slightly taller than the dome.

Skylab was connected to the Dome by a tunnel. The Skylab housed atmospheric sensor equipment and later a music room.

Fact

The dome facility was designed to house 18 science and support
personnel during the winter and 33 during the austral summer.
However, over the years, the facility’s infrastructure and
technology have exceeded its design and operational life.

During the 1970–1974 summers, the Seabees constructing the
dome were housed in Korean War-era Jamesway huts. A hut consists of a wooden frame with a raised platform covered by a canvas tarp.
A double-doored vestibule was at each end. Although heated,
the heat was not sufficient to keep them habitable during the winter.

From the 1990s on, astrophysical research conducted at the South Pole took advantage of its favorable atmospheric conditions and began to produce important scientific results. Such experiments include the Python, Viper, and DASI telescopes, as well as the 390 inches South Pole Telescope. The DASI telescope has since been decommissioned and its mount used for the Keck Array. The AMANDA / IceCube experiment makes use of the two-mile-thick ice sheet to detect neutrinos that have passed through the earth. An observatory building, the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory (MAPO), was dedicated in 1995. The importance of these projects changed the priorities in station operation, increasing the status of scientific cargo and personnel.

During the winter of 1988, a loud crack was heard in the dome.
Upon investigation, it was discovered that the foundation
base ring beams were broken due to being overstressed.

The dome was dismantled in late 2009.[10] It was crated and given to the Seabees. They have it in storage at Port Hueneme, California.
The center oculus is suspended in a display at the Seabee Museum there.

In 1992, the design of a new station began for an 80,000 sq ft building with two-floor levels that cost US $150 million. Construction began in 1999, adjacent to the Dome. The facility was officially dedicated on January 12, 2008, with a ceremony that included the decommissioning of the old Dome station.

The entirety of building materials to complete the build of the new South Pole Station were flown in from McMurdo Station by the LC-130 Hercules aircraft and the 139th Airlift Squadron Stratton Air National Guard Base, Scotia, New York. Each plane brought 26,000 pounds of cargo each flight with the total weight of the building material being 24,000,000 pounds.

Fact

The new station included a modular design, to accommodate rises in population, and an adjustable elevation to prevent it from being buried in snow.

Since roughly 8 inches (20 cm) of snow accumulates every year without ever thawing, the building’s designers included rounded corners and edges around the structure to help reduce snow drifts.

The building faces the wind with a sloping lower portion of the wall. The angled wall increases the wind speed as it flows under the buildings, and passes above the snow-pack, causing the snow to be scoured away. This prevents the building from being quickly buried. Wind tunnel tests show that scouring will continue to occur until the snow level reaches the second floor.

Because snow gradually settles over time under its own weight, the foundations of the building were designed to accommodate substantial differential settling over any one wing in any one line or any one column. If differential settling continues, the supporting structure will need to be jacked up and re-leveled.

The facility was designed with the primary support columns outboard of the exterior walls so that the entire building can be jacked up a full floor level. During this process, a new section of column will be added over the existing columns then the jacks pull the building up to the higher elevation.

During the summer the station population is typically around 150. Most personnel leave by the middle of February, leaving a few dozen (39 in 2021) “winter-overs”, mostly support staff plus a few scientists, who keep the station functional through the months of Antarctic night.

The winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October.

Wintering-over presents notorious dangers and stresses, as the station population is almost totally isolated. The station is completely self-sufficient during the winter and powered by three generators running on JP-8 jet fuel.

An annual tradition is a back-to-back-to-back viewing of The Thing from Another World (1951), The Thing (1982), and The Thing (2011) 
after the last flight has left for the winter.

Research at the station includes glaciology, seismology, geophysics, meteorology, upper atmosphere physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and biomedical studies. In recent years, most of the winter scientists have worked for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory or for low-frequency astronomy experiments such as the South Pole Telescope and BICEP2. The low temperature and low moisture content of the polar air, combined with the altitude of over 8,999 feet,

causes the air to be far more transparent on some frequencies than is typical elsewhere, and the months of darkness permit sensitive equipment to run constantly. There is a small greenhouse at the station. The variety of vegetables and herbs in the greenhouse, which ranges from fresh eggplant to jalapeños, are all produced hydroponically, using only water and nutrients and no soil. The greenhouse is the only source of fresh fruit and vegetables during the winter.

Station Statistics
  • The station stands at an elevation of 9,306 feet
  • The station, which is 850 nautical miles south of McMurdo Station, is drifting with the ice sheet at about 33 feet each year
  • The recorded temperature has varied between 7.52 °F and -117.04° F
  • The annual mean is -56.2° F
  • The monthly means vary from -18.4° F in December to -76° F in July
  • The average wind is 12.3 miles per hour
  • The peak gust recorded was 55 miles per hour in August 1989


Footnotes
  1. United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Navy Seabees, form the U.S. Naval Construction Force (NCF). The Seabee nickname is a heterograph of the initial letters “CB” from the words “Construction Battalion”. Depending upon context, “Seabee” can refer to all enlisted personnel in the USN’s occupational field 7 (OF-7), all personnel in the Naval Construction Force (NCF), or Construction Battalion. Seabees serve both in and outside the NCF. During World War II they were plank-holders of both the Naval Combat Demolition Units and the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs). The men in the NCF considered these units to be “Seabee”. In addition, Seabees served as elements of Cubs, Lions, Acorns, and the United States Marine Corps. They also provided the manpower for the top-secret CWS Flame Tank Group. Today the Seabees have many special task assignments starting with Camp David and the Naval Support Unit at the Department of State. Seabees serve under both Commanders of the Naval Surface Forces Atlantic/Pacific fleets as well as on many base Public Works and USN diving commands.

Further Reading

Sources

Wikipedia
National Science Foundation


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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