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Notes from the Field

Happy New Year from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

January 3rd, 2020 by Kelly Brunt

We are still at South Pole Station.

As we were finishing up the preparation of the sleds used on the 88S Traverse, we realized that we were missing a couple of fittings that pair our propane tank to 2 Coleman cook stoves. It seems like a small part, but that part is fundamental in allowing us to cook meals while simultaneously melting water to stay hydrated. So we were stuck…

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

We called the science-support crew in McMurdo that had the fittings and they tried to get the part on the next plane to the South Pole. That plane would be the last one to arrive before a long 2-day break associated with the New Year holiday. The science-support crew in McMurdo went so far as to chase down the vehicles headed to the airfield to hand them this part! But they couldn’t chase them out onto the ice shelf, to the airfield associated with aircraft equipped with skis. So we ended up spending New Year’s Eve at the South Pole.

While time at South Pole is arbitrary, the convention here is to be on New Zealand time, primarily based on the air support through Christchurch. About a couple hundred yards from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is a large camp associated with expeditioners that come to the South Pole, with a commercial logistics provider. Their air support is through South America. Thus, people that are just a couple hundred yards celebrated the New Year 16 hours apart.

Expeditioners camp, just a couple hundred yards from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The coolest thing about spending the New Year at the South Pole is the 1 January ceremony to place a geodetic benchmark on the geographic South Pole, or 90°S. Ice sheets are dynamic; they move under their own weight very slowly, like thick maple syrup moving toward the edge of your pancakes. Thus, South Pole Station is slowly moving away from the geographic South Pole. Every year, on the first of January, a new benchmark is placed on the surveyed geographic South Pole. The benchmark itself is designed by the science-support crew that spends the long, isolated winter at the station, ensuring that continuous scientific observations are kept running!

The 1 January 2020 ceremony to place a geodetic benchmark on the geographic South Pole.

The old benchmarks are removed and put on display inside the station. They often represent current happenings at South Pole Station, such as the year that the new station was completed. The older benchmarks contain the names of the US Geological Survey personnel that used to come down and survey the geographic South Pole; I used to work with many of those folks and it was pretty cool to see their names again! The newer benchmarks often contain the names of all of the winter-over science-support personnel, or the folks that designed the new benchmark.

Geographic South Pole benchmarks on display at South Pole Station. The one in the upper left is the oldest benchmark, dating from 1984.


More recent geographic South Pole benchmarks on display at South Pole Station. Some of these get quite elaborate!


The new 2020 geographic South Pole benchmark! The names of the winter-over science-support personnel are etched into the post.

Happy New Year!

-Kelly & Thomas

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