Where is the real Pole really?

the first South Pole marker
The South Pole, 16 November 1976. Photo by Tadashi Yogi. To
our knowledge at the time this was the first Pole survey marker,
but now I know there was an earlier one back in 1959, and at least
one other during the Navy era.

surveying the South Pole Once a year the USGS folks would "move the Pole".... Actually the geographical South Pole stays at the same spot on the surface of the globe (at least for our purposes. There are short and long-term "wobbles" that are not relevant to this exercise). The icecap on which we and the station are standing moves approximately 33 feet a year in a direction between 37 and 40 west of grid north. The movement is slightly erratic from year to year for some reason--perhaps because we have gotten better at measuring it! Anyway the station site is moving slowly in the direction of South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic.


In our era the movement was calculated based by the satellite tracking operation--the exact geographical position of the sattrack antenna moving the polewas computed from the tracking data from many low-orbiting satellites, much as a simple GPS receiver does today. Actually, the satellite tracking project was an important precursor to the development of the GPS system, so I really can say we were using GPS [upper left photo by Tadashi Yogi] turning angles in the snow. The actual "relocation of the Pole" was really a ceremonial exercise involving turning an angle from the previous year's location, and measuring off the proper distance based on the movement of the sattrack antenna. While Jim and Ken had done all of the preliminary dirty work, the actual event was performed by R. H. Lyddan who was head of the topographic division for USGS. The Pole locations had previously been marked with stakes or copper pipes, but in honor of the Bicentennial and Mr. Lyddan's visit, the first Pole survey marker, shown above, was created. Oh, it disappeared two days later, never to be seen again. Some time later the idea for bench marks became an annual event, and nowadays, the markers and stakes are artistic creations by one of the machinists on station--sometimes specially machined from a single piece of material 12' long! Much too large to fit in an orange bag, and very difficult to remove for a souvenir...although they still have been known to disappear...including the millennium edition and the one from 2003!

Oh yes...in the upper left photo you will notice an airplane circling to land. This was one of the three planes that ended up parked on the taxiway overnight due to bad weather at McM--Mr. Lyddan and his DV party got to stay overnight with us as well. While I was taking the picture I was already worrying about what to do with all of the overnight visitors...

For too much more information about the geographic pole, and an essay or two on how it is located these days, here is an old CARA page on the subject. More recently, here's an AAD (Australian program) page about the various Poles.


I'm having a ball at Pole!

On the opening day of the station (while the second flight was on-deck) it seems that someone dislodged the fragile glass globe mounted on top of the ceremonial pole. The result was what you might expect. As if we didn't have enough to worry about with the fires and other early season disasters. I helped pick up the pieces of broken glass and throw them in the dumpster.

it was a flagpole

UPDATE on, well, the broken glass! Would you believe that one of my fellow Pole Souls saved some pieces of the broken glass ball, and presented them to me (well, in my historian role I guess) at our June 2006 reunion. Anyway, I thought about how to getting the fragments repatriated to Pole in February 2008, but I couldn't figure out a good way to pack them in my baggage. But here they are.

Anyway, after cleaning up the broken glass, this problem called for some ingenuity. Since there were no other silvered glass globes on the ice, the short-term solution was that someone at McM painted a bowling ball silver and Bruce Carter from the Navy public works department brought that down. The long-term solution was that a new glass globe was procured, and in this picture it is being presented to me by the CO of VXE-6, CDR D. A. Desko, while Robert Rutford, the NSF Director of Polar Programs, looks on.

The original glass globe was one of two that Paul Siple obtained in 1956 for use in sky photography. These globes were airdropped (as was most of the construction material for old pole) and Paul Siple had a ball too!the parachutes just barely opened in time. One of the globes was mounted atop the bamboo flagpole , (the same bamboo pole you see in the above left photo and which is still there today) and mounted on the garage as seen in one of the photos in Paul Siple's book "90 South" and seen at right in the Canterbury Museum where I took this photo in 2004. In 1977 the pole had been considerably shortened but it still had the flagpole pulley attached to the square wood base under the glass ball.

After Paul's winter, he switched out the globes and brought the original home. His wife Ruth donated it to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, where I took this picture of it (at left) in November 1977. Oh yes, I've been told that after our ball broke, NSF explored the possibility of getting this one out of the museum and shipping it to Pole....

Nowadays modern industrial technology has triumphed again. The ceremonial pole was rebuilt at some time after 1990, but it still uses a piece of the original bamboo. The globe is metallic and unbreakable (although I understand it can get dislodged if you work at it). I wonder where the rest of the old bamboo pole went. In any case, we pole souls including yours truly securely anchored the ceremonial pole in place with Antarctic cement several times during the 1977 winter. Another mystery, I've been told that there was at least one 1960's era time capsule inside the top of the original bamboo pole...

the Ceremonial Pole

Here at left is my January 2004 hero shot in front of the updated Pole exhibit at the Canterbury Museum.

The caption reads: "This 16 inch (405 cm) silvered glass ball was dropped by parachute at the South Pole 18 years ago [sic] during the construction of the first Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in December 1956. It was one of two bought from Bradley Bros. Ltd. by Dr Paul Siple, scientific leader of the team of 18 Americans who in 1957 were the first to live at the South Pole. Dr Siple arranged to have this ball mounted on a symbolic "South Pole" where it remained for 11 months, until he took it back to the United States as a memento.

"Presented to the Canterbury Museum Antarctic Centre by Mrs Ruth Siple, widow of Dr Paul Siple on January 7, 1975."

The late Ruth Siple was on the way to the South Pole for the dedication of the domed station when this presentation was made. My most recent visit to the Canterbury Museum was in January 2014, and this exhibit was still on display.


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