It is confusing that there are several different South Poles (the magnetic south pole, the geomagnetic south pole, the southern pole of inaccessibility etc) but the one most commonly referred to as THE south pole, is the Geographic South Pole. This is the southernmost point on the globe, the point around which the Earth spins and the place first reached by Scott and Amundsen 100 years ago. Today, it is also the site of one of the largest research stations in Antarctica. The Amundsen-Scott station (known as ‘Pole’) is an American-run station where some 250 people live and work during the Antarctic summer season. The two-story station is raised on stilts above the snow and is a few hundred yards from the South Pole.
In front of the Amundsen-Scott station is a silver sphere on a red and white striped barbers pole a few feet high, surrounded by the flags of the 14 nations that signed the original Antarctic Treaty in 1957 – but to make matters regarding all the different south poles even more confusing, this is only a ‘ceremonial’ south pole. The actual location of 90S is a short distance away, marked by a stake and a signboard. The stake is topped by an ornamental pin-head which is created by the staff that have spent the winter at the nearby research station and which changes each year. This second pole is necessary because although the ceremonial silver sphere appears to be stationary, it is actually sitting on the Antarctic plateau, a thick cap of ice that is slowly moving out towards the sea. So, in fact, the silver sphere moves northward every year. The second marker is repositioned annually over the actual point of 90S.
This will be my third arrival at the South Pole but each time it has been under very different circumstances and had a totally different significance. It still feels very bizarre to be standing at the very bottom of our planet.