Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station

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The current "raised" station at the South Pole

The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is a United States scientific research station at the South Pole, the southernmost place on the Earth. The station is located on the high plateau of Antarctica at an elevation of 2,835 meters (9,301 feet) above sea level and is administered by the Division of Polar Programs within the National Science Foundation under the United States Antarctic Program (USAP).

The original Amundsen–Scott Station was built by Navy Seabees for the United States during November 1956, as a part of its commitment to the scientific goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), an international effort lasting from January 1957 through June 1958, to study, among other things, the geophysics of the polar regions of Earth.

Before November 1956, there was no permanent human structure at the South Pole, and very little human presence in the interior of Antarctica at all. The few scientific stations in Antarctica were located on and near its seacoast. The station has been continuously occupied since it was built. The Amundsen–Scott Station has been rebuilt, demolished, expanded, and upgraded several times since 1956.

Environment

Since the Amundsen–Scott Station is located at the South Pole, it is at the only inhabited place on the land surface of the Earth where the Sun is continuously up for six months and then continuously down for six months (the only other such place is at the North Pole, on the sea ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean). Thus, during each year, this station experiences one extremely long "day" and one extremely long "night". During the six-month "day", the angle of elevation of the Sun above the horizon varies continuously. The Sun rises on the September equinox, reaches its maximum angle above the horizon on the southern summer solstice, and sets on the March equinox.

During the six-month "night", it gets extremely cold at the South Pole, with air temperatures sometimes dropping below −73 °C (−99 °F). This is also the time of the year when blizzards, sometimes with gale-force winds, strike the station. The continuous period of darkness and dry atmosphere make the station an excellent place from which to make astronomical observations.

Personnel

The number of scientific researchers and members of the support staff housed at the Amundsen–Scott Station has always varied seasonally, with a peak population of about 200 in the summer operational season from October to February. In recent years the winter-time population has been around 50 people.

Current station

Communications room in the Amundsen-Scott station

In 1992, the design of a new station began for a 7,400 m2 (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 de-commissioning of the old Dome station. The ceremony was attended by a number of dignitaries flown in specifically for the day, including National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement, scientist Susan Solomon and other government officials. 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.

The new station included a modular design, to accommodate an increasing station population, and an adjustable elevation, in order to prevent the station from being buried in snow. In a location where about 20 centimeters (8 in) of snow accumulates every year without ever thawing, the building's rounded corners and edges help reduce snow drifts. The building faces into the wind with a sloping lower portion of 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 supported 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.