Around this time last year I began to get the question, “So, what are you going to do when you graduate?” This question sucks a lot. No college student appreciates being asked this. My answer was always, “I’ll go wherever I can find a job…” and well, what do you know—I am going to the South Pole to be a meteorologist! Finally getting a shot to pursue my interests in climate and atmospheric science that I’ve developed since Sea Semester and that one summer seminar class on past and future climate change. I am exceptionally grateful for this amazing opportunity, and I am going to use this blog as a means of sharing my stories from 90˚S.
Now as you can imagine, I’ve been asked several hundred questions about my upcoming adventure to Antarctica… so I’ve answered a few of them here!
Where in the world are you going???
Antarctica is the continent that covers the south pole, which is 1.5 times the size of the United States. For comparison, there is no continent that covers the North Pole—just the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice. (Well, it used to be covered in sea ice, but most of it has melted. Anyway, that’s a topic for another day…) I will be stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which is located at roughly 90˚S—the actual South Pole. It is one of three United States operated stations; the other two are McMurdo Station, which is the southernmost bare ground accessible by ship at 77.85˚S, and Palmer Station, which at 64.77˚S is actually north of the Antarctic circle. Fun fact: both McMurdo and Palmer are located on islands, so not technically part of the continent of Antarctica.
How cold is it going to be?
The highest recorded temperature at the South Pole was in 2011, and it was -12.3˚C or 9.9˚F. Average high temp for December (summertime!) is about -26.5˚C or -15.7˚F. I’m not even going to talk about the average low temperatures because that’s depressing. ❄ ❄ ❄ Is this a good time to mention that I’m from California and I hate the cold?
Antarctica is actually the Earth’s driest desert, with humidity at around 3% and very little falling precipitation. So this means dehydration is a constant threat, and hangovers really really really suck.
Polar Bears vs. Penguins
Many people have this bit confused—SO LET’S GET THIS RIGHT ONCE AND FOR ALL, PEOPLE—Polar Bears are only found in the Northern Hemisphere and penguins are found in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m hoping to at least see a few penguins while I’m at McMurdo Station or in New Zealand!
What time zone is the South Pole?
Technically at 90˚S, the station is located at every timezone, but to minimize confusion and to make things easier they use the New Zealand time zone (UTC +12:00). This is because all flights to McMurdo originate in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Which way is North?
North is down. For navigational purposes, the segment of the Prime Meridian that divides the Eastern Hemisphere on the right from the Western Hemisphere on the left (or the line associated with Greenwich Mean Time) is “North.”
What country does Antarctica belong to?
50 nations have signed the Antarctic Treaty, which states that no one nation may own the continent (or any land south of 60˚S), the environment is fully protected, scientific research is the number one priority, and no military or nuclear action may be taken.
How do you get there?
By airplane! I will fly from San Francisco, to LAX, to Sydney, Australia and then to Christchurch, New Zealand. Stay in NZ for orientation and extreme cold weather (ECW) gear hand-out. Then get on a C-17 to McMurdo Station, then fly to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station!
Well that’s all for now folks! Just one month until I leave… You can leave more questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to answer them before I ship out. Happy autumn everyone!