Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

The South Pole Ceremony

After arriving in McMurdo, I immediately went and checked the flight information for the following day to see if there was a flight to South Pole scheduled. If I didn’t fly, I would have to wait at least an addition 2 days because of the New Year’s holiday.

I was excited to see that we were a backup flight, so there was a chance to reach the South Pole on New Year’s Day. But for us to fly, a flight to WAIS Divide, the ice-core site that I have spent much of the last 5 years working on, had to be canceled. Two friends had been waiting over 2 weeks for a flight to WAIS Divide and the camp could use a resupply. Could I really root for the WAIS Divide flight to get cancelled?

I heard that the weather was dicey at WAIS Divide, so it was likely we would fly to Pole. When I woke up in the morning, the WAIS Divide flight had been cancelled due to weather, but the South Pole flight had good weather in both locations. So three of us made our way back to the airfield about 16 hours after we had arrived. Things were looking good, but as with all flights in Antarctica, you keep your fingers crossed until you land at your destination.


Landing at South Pole was awesome. Three friends met me at the plane and walked me over to the station. I felt like a pre-teen walking up to Hogwarts Castle for the first time. I had arrived at the geographic South Pole, in many ways, the end of the Earth. And even better, I had arrived in time for the South Pole Ceremony, by a mere two hours.

The South Pole sits on top of 2800 m (9000 ft) of ice which is flowing at 10 m per year (33 feet per year). So each year, the marker for the geographic South Pole has to be moved and this is done on New Years Day.


The marker is designed and crafted by the winter-over crew each year. Much of the station assembled outside for the ceremony.

spc_3The station manager said a few short words, and then asked us to form a semicircle from the previous marker to the new one. We passed the American Flag around the semi-circle, planting it just downstream of the new marker


The new marker was then unveiled

There is a great tradition of markers at South Pole and I was honored to be a part of it. For a glaciologist who measures ice-flow rates, it was particularly fun to be involved. In the station, there is a display case with all of the markers. It looks like the first one was crafted in 1984 and it became an annual tradition in 1987.

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