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Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

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NSF Award:

Science, Operations, and Maintenance Support for the United States Antarctic Program  (Raytheon Technical Services Company LLC)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station sits at the Earth's axis, atop a constantly shifting continental ice sheet nearly two miles thick. Perhaps the world's most remote research facility, the station lies at the heart of a continent cut off from the rest of the globe by a circulating Southern Ocean current. Antarctica is the coldest, highest, driest and windiest of the continents – and the least hospitable to human life. But paradoxically, those same conditions combine to make the South Pole a unique scientific laboratory for the study of questions as diverse as "What is the origin of the Universe and how did it develop?" or "What is the status of global climate change?"

In January 2008, the National Science Foundation (NSF) dedicated a new station at the Pole, the third since 1956. The new elevated station is larger and much more sophisticated than any previous structure built at the Pole – a reflection of the logistical support needed for the ever-increasing range and diversity of the research taking place there. It will also be a radical departure from the first man-made structure erected at the Earth's southernmost point: the forlorn pyramidal tent erected by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen almost a century ago to mark the advent of human habitation at the Pole.

The station has an Atmospheric Research Observatory, the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory for Astrophysics, and computer systems for research and communication including Internet access. It has collected the longest continuous set of meteorological data from Antarctica's vast interior ice plateau, and it is well located for studies of the cusp region of the magnetosphere. Astronomy and astrophysics have flourished in recent years, taking advantage of excellent optical properties of the atmosphere (resulting from its high elevation, low temperature, and low humidity) and, for neutrino detection, the extremely clear and homogeneous thick ice below. A small biomedical research facility is present. Other areas of interest include glaciology, geophysics and seismology, ocean and climate systems, astrophysics, astronomy, and biology and medicine.

Education & Outreach

The NSF supports a range of education and outreach programs related to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station including science videos, an interactive website about the history and future of research and exploration at the South Pole, and a live webcam of the station.

PolarTREC is an educational research experience in which K-12 teachers participate in polar research, working closely with scientists as a pathway to improving science education. The program’s Virtual Base Camp enables interested parties to learn about the research conducted by PolarTREC participants. In 2010, the South Pole Station welcomed a PolarTREC team to work on the world's largest scientific instrument, the IceCube Neutrino Detector. The detector will be used to make a "neutrino map" of the universe and to learn more about cataclysmic astronomical phenomena like gamma ray bursts, black holes, and exploding stars, and other aspects of nuclear and particle physics.

NSF Award: 0000373 

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  • Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
The newly completed Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The station provides shelter and lab facilities to researchers, including up to 48 who overwinter, with an additional 104 berths for summer researchers.
National Science Foundation
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