A Century at the South Pole

A Century at the South Pole
A Century at the South Pole

On the morning of December 14 the weather was of the finest, just as if it had been made for arriving at the Pole. I am not quite sure, but I believe we despatched our breakfast rather more quickly than usual and were out of the tent sooner, though I must admit that we always accomplished this with all reasonable haste...At three in the afternoon a simultaneous “Halt!” rang out from the drivers. They had carefully examined their sledge-meters, and they all showed the full distance—our Pole by reckoning. The goal was reached, the journey ended.

We reckoned now that we were at the Pole. Of course, every one of us knew that we were not standing on the absolute spot; it would be an impossibility with the time and the instruments at our disposal to ascertain that exact spot. But we were so near it that the few miles which possibly separated us from it could not be of the slightest importance. After we had halted we collected and congratulated each other. We had good grounds for mutual respect in what had been achieved, and I think that was just the feeling that was expressed in the firm and powerful grasps of the fist that were exchanged.

After this we proceeded to the greatest and most solemn act of the whole journey—the planting of our flag. Pride and affection shone in the five pairs of eyes that gazed upon the flag, as it unfurled itself with a sharp crack, and waved over the Pole....Five weather-beaten, frost-bitten fists they were that grasped the pole, raised the waving flag in the air, and planted it as the first at the geographical South Pole. —Roald Amundsen, The South Pole.

On December 14, 2011, the South Pole is a slightly more hospitable place than the “vast plain of the same character in every direction” that Roald Amundsen reached 100 years ago. In January 2008, the National Science Foundation dedicated a new research station—the third since 1957—at the geographic South Pole. Amundsen left a single small tent at the Pole. Today’s station can house more than 100 people and operates year-round.

Amundsen and his team spent three days at the South Pole measuring and mapping their position—the activity that two unidentified members of Amundsen’s party were involved in when the top photo was taken. Today, scientists make a wide range of observations at the South Pole, taking advantage of unpolluted, dry and cold polar air to gaze deep into space, search for subatomic particles, and observe Earth’s atmosphere.

The Pole is still a harsh, isolated environment, but 100 years of technology development has made it more accessible. A live camera view makes it possible to visit the South Pole exactly 100 years after Amundsen’s more arduous trek.

1911 expedition photograph provided courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library. 2011 aerial photograph courtesy of the U.S. National Science Foundation, taken by Robert Schwartz. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

References & Resources

  • Amundsen, R. (1912). The South Pole. Available online through the Gutenberg Project. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  • West, P. (2011, December 9). U.S. South Pole Station. National Science Foundation. Accessed December 13, 2011.