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Frequently Asked Questions



  1. Do you feel like you are upside down all the time?
  2. Wouldnít every direction there be North? How do you give each other directions?
  3. What time zone are you in?
  4. How cold does it get?
  5. Does it ever get too cold to go outside?
  6. How cold does the wind-chill get?
  7. How windy does it get?
  8. Do you ever get frostbite?
  9. Does it snow all the time?
  10. Do you ever feel trapped? Alone? Homesick?
  11. What kind of wildlife lives at the South Pole? Are there penguins? Polar bears?
  12. Do you have regular toilets? Which way does the water swirl?
  13. Do you have to melt snow for your water supply?
  14. How is waste disposed of?
  15. What are your living conditions like? Do you have any roommates?
  16. How many people live/work at the South Pole?
  17. What kind of heat is used to heat your living/working quarters?
  18. How cold is it inside your buildings? Is the humidity really low? Is there a lot of static electricity?
  19. How do you get used to nonstop sunlight/darkness?
  20. Are you worried about getting Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter?
  21. What do you do for fun there?
  22. What is your job there? Why are you there?
  23. How tall are you? In the picture on the front page it looks like you stand about seven feet!
  24. Whatís a Poley? (Polie, Polee)
  25. What is South Polish?
  26. If you had $100 to buy anything in the civilized world you want, what would it be?

Got a question? Click here and ask away!



Do you feel like you are upside down all the time?

Of course I don't, but I can see how in a traditional, Western way of thinking it is strange to visualize a person at the "bottom" of the Earth. Itís weird for me to think about launching a weather balloon, as visualized from space, floating straight down away from the Earth as it rises.

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Wouldnít every direction there be North? How do you give each other directions?

We certainly canít give directions here like everybody else does. For instance, to go out to the MAPO observatory from the Dome, one would have to walk South and then North without ever turning because they would pass right by the Geographic South Pole. Fortunately, we rarely have to give each other directions because our station is so small and the nearest place that anyone would want to go to is over 800 miles away!

If someone does talk about things being North or South here, they are most likely referring to what we call 'Grid directions' as in Grid North and Grid South. In the Grid system, North is along the Prime Meridian or 0į Longitude, pointing toward Greenwich, England. South would be 180į Longitude, East is 90į and West is 270į. It's actually quite simple. Meteorologists like myself always describe wind directions using the Grid system. It wouldn't mean much to report that the wind at the South Pole always comes from the North!

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What time zone are you in?

Honestly I have no idea, but Iím sure I go through several every day. In fact, I could go outside and run around the Geographic South Pole and go through all twenty-four time zones in a few seconds.

Using real time zones here would be difficult. Some buildings would be on a different time or day than others. So we have all decided to use New Zealand Time. The reason we settled on that zone is nearly all flights to Antarctica arrive at McMurdo Station from New Zealand. To avoid confusion when scheduling flights, McMurdo uses New Zealand time as well. Since nearly all flights to the South Pole come from McMurdo, we use the same time. Normally, it is 12 hours ahead of UTC. For the Austral summer, New Zealand goes on Daylight Savings Time, and therefore we are 13 hours ahead of UTC. During our winter, when itís noon on Monday here, itís 7 PM on Sunday in the U.S. Central Time Zone.

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How cold does it get?

The coldest temperature ever recorded at the South Pole was -117į F (-82.8į C) on June 23, 1982. The average temperature throughout the winter is remarkably consistent at about -72į F (-58į C).

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Does it ever get too cold to go outside?

I go outside even when it's -100į F. As a meteorologist, it's my job! Some people even work in those temperatures for most of the day. Believe it or not, most of us would rather be outside in -100 than -60. When it gets really cold, the wind is usually calm. When the wind is howling, the temperature rises considerably, but that is when it's the most uncomfortable.

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How cold does the wind-chill get?

The wind can definitely make it feel colder outside and certainly has the effect of causing a person to lose heat at a much faster rate. However, the wind-chill index in common usage is of little or no scientific value or merit. It is based upon the subjective idea of how cold it 'feels' and there is no real way to measure that. Wind-chill is a novelty that people like to invoke when bragging. I'm not going to do that, but wind-chills here, using the common method of calculation, have been close to or possibly been below -200į F (-130į C).

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How windy does it get?

The strongest wind ever recorded at the South Pole was 48 kts (55 mph, 92 km/h) on August 24, 1989. The average wind at the South Pole is 11 knots (12 mph, 21 km/h), quite low compared with the rest of Antarctica, which is the windiest continent.

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Do you ever get frostbite?

Most Poleys get mild forms of frostbite at some time during the winter. My ears turned white and blistered once when I was outside posing or a picture when the wind-chill was -140įF. Usually frostbite occurs when the wind is blowing really strong and one has to walk into the direction from which it is blowing. It is hard to get every inch of flesh covered and when the cold wind blows strong on exposed skin, frostbite doesnít take long. Another easy way to get a burn is to touch any metal outside with bare skin. Even doorknobs under the Dome can cause a good burn when itís really cold. Thatís why most of the doorknobs here are wrapped in tape.

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Does it snow all the time?

No. In fact it hardly ever snows. We don't even measure snow accumulation at the South Pole because it is negligible. Any time we actually see snow falling (really the only types of precipitation we record are called snow grains or ice crystals) we record a trace. Even with hundreds of traces accumulating all year, we still only record a trace of precipitation a year. There is definitely significant accumulation, but most of that is from drifting snow and it is nearly impossible to differentiate between what really fell and what just blew in. Even if we could measure actual precipitation, we would still be in what is classified as a desert. We are also on a huge glacier. Of the two miles of snow on which the station is built, most is millions of years old.

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Do you ever feel trapped? Alone? Homesick?

During the winter I donít feel trapped at all. I feel much freer. There is a lot more room with the smaller winter population. I rarely feel alone. There are a lot of wonderful people here, and it can actually be pretty hard to avoid them sometimes. I donít really get homesick either. After four years in the navy, I am quite used to being far from home, and the people here make it much easier. Technology also helps. I can email anyone I want, look at pictures from home, and even call back to the U.S. when the satellites are up.

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What kind of wildlife lives at the South Pole? Are there penguins? Polar bears?

The only life at the South Pole is humans and the parasites they host. Occasionally a fly or slug might make it here hidden in some lettuce in the summer. If one survives, someone usually takes care of it as a pet.

For the vast majority of the interior of Antarctica, there is no life at all. On the other hand, the coasts are teeming with wildlife, nearly all aquatic or avian. Penguins of course are great in number. I got to see a few when I was on vacation in McMurdo. The primary flying bird is the skua, kind of like high-latitude seagulls they are scavengers and some species fly to the Arctic for the Boreal Summer and back every year for the Austral Summer. I guess they really like sun! Once in a great while, a skua makes it all the way to the South Pole in the summer. It is unclear if they would normally fly this far inland or if they are just following the vapor trails from the planes that fly here.

Several types of seals also dominate the ice edge. There are lots of whales and many varieties of fish. Orkas (Killer Whales) are at the top of the food chain. As for flora, there are no trees or leafy plants, but several types of lichens and molds do grow in areas that are not completely covered with ice. Polar bears are only found in the Arctic.

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Do you have regular toilets? Which way does the water swirl?

The toilets here look the same as any in the U.S. The question about the direction of swirl really touched off an interesting debate at the South Pole (although I'm sure it has come up before.) Until I was asked this question, I had honestly never thought about it, so I had to check. Toilets here definitely spin counterclockwise, but the main reason appears to be the position of the jet. The water seems very reluctant to go this way in comparison with what I remember about the Northern Hemisphere. So now that I was curious, I filled a large sink and let it drain naturally. Clockwise! For the life of me I could not remember which way either of these turn back North, but I had a hunch-- which was supported by my understanding of Coriolis force-- that both toilets and sinks normally spin counterclockwise back home, like tornadoes. Since there are a lot of smart people down here, many of them scientists, I thought I would ask a few about the subject. Although I couldn't find any that did dissertations on toilet water, most couldn't remember how it's supposed to work at all. One of these scientists told me about an experiment that some researcher did on the subject. Apparently, the direction can be easily manipulated unless an enormous tub of water is used. Another told me that the idea of drainage behaving differently in different hemispheres was a farce, but couldn't explain why. How could anything on "The Simpsons" not be true? Anyway, the debate goes on...

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Do you have to melt snow for your water supply?

We get nearly all our water from what we call the "Rodwell" (short for "Rodriguez Well" named for the inventor, who apparently conceived and first implemented the idea in Greenland). It is a fairly simple concept: hot water is pumped down a hole in the glacier and it melts the ice at the bottom. The newly melted water is pumped to the surface. When the well becomes too deep for the reaches of our pump, it is abandoned and a new Rodwell is started. For a few of the outlying buildings, snow is brought in from the snow mine (a big pile of clean snow a little ways from the station) and front-end loaders put it into snow-melting machines, where the resultant water is used locally.

The drinking water here is probably among the purest of any on Earth. Contaminants and bacteria are almost nonexistent. It is treated with chlorine anyway, in the off chance that there are microorganisms lurking in the station's pipes.

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How is waste disposed of?

In Antarctica, the waste is a terrible thing to mind. There used to be landfills both here and at McMurdo. A few years ago they were cleaned up and the litter was shipped out. The garbage heap practice of waste disposal didnít go over very well with the international push to keep this the most pristine landmass on Earth. It also didnít help that there is little or no rot in Antarctica. With the dryness and lack of nearly any life at all the garbage would stay intact and unchanged for many years to come. So now all of our trash is separated for recycling or incineration and shipped off the continent.

Human waste is the only refuse that is not flown out from the South Pole. In fact, sewage is pumped down the hole from the last Rodwell that was in use. It is frozen and essentially buried in the ice. Be forewarned: Sometime in the next few million years, a very dirty iceberg will calve off the Antarctic ice edge and sail out to sea.

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What are your living conditions like? Do you have any roommates?

I live in on the second floor of the building where I work which is called the Science building. It is is located under a huge geodesic aluminum dome which is about 150 in diameter and 60 feet high. The Dome is not heated but the buildings under it are so it is a little warmer than outside and it keeps out the wind.

My room is not very big, about six feet by nine feet, but it is all my own and donít have roommates. Of those staying for the full year, the only people who share rooms are the married couples.

My bed is kind of like a loft and I have a desk underneath it where I keep my laptop computer hooked up to the Internet. We also eat all our meals here under the Dome in the Galley and the food is always very good.

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How many people live/work at the South Pole?

The summer (Nov-Feb) population at the South Pole is rarely more than 220, but fluctuates quite a bit with flights coming in and going out every day. The winter population is fixed because there is no way in or out. This year, there are 50 of us staying over for the winter, which is still considered to be a lot (too many by some). Last year, they also started out the winter with 50. The year before that the winter population was 42, and every year previous there were only about half as many people or less, 18 easily being the mode.

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What kind of heat is used to heat your living/working quarters?

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station has its own power plant that actually runs on the same fuel (JP-8) that the planes that fly here use. Most of the buildings are connected to a central heating system that derives its heat from the plant. The rest of the buildings, mainly those far away from the Dome, have their own furnaces.

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How cold is it inside your buildings? Is the humidity really low? Is there a lot of static electricity?

Although many people keep on a few layers when they are indoors (not enough hooks for everyone to hang everything!), it is in fact quite warm inside the buildings at the South Pole. It pretty much stays around room temperature. The only complaint people have is that some of the rooms in the middle of buildings can get a little warm. Sometimes a building's heating system has a difficult time keeping all the temperatures the same throughout.

The middle rooms can also get very dry. The humidity outside is so low here that we don't even measure it. Inside, humidity is almost non-existent, especially in the winter. When you take -100įF air and warm it up to +70įF, it would be bone dry no matter how wet it started. And since the middle rooms are the warmest, they also tend to be the driest.

One interesting effect of such dryness is a tremendous buildup of static electricity. In the T.V. lounge (a middle room), a spark from someone flipping the light switch can light up the room! I get static-electric shocks all the time-- and they hurt!

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How do you get used to nonstop sunlight/darkness?

For the summer, it seemed normal to have the sun up when I was up; when I slept, I never knew it was light because there are no windows in my room. In the winter it is just like working a night shift.

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Are you worried about getting Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter?

I have been coping just fine without the sun. Darkness is actually a nice change from the constant barrage of sunlight we had all summer. For some reason, most people here don't have a problem with the darkness. Just in case though, I brought along a full-spectrum lamp for my room.

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What do you do for fun there?

I in fact devoted an entire journal entry to this question. Click here.

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What is your job there? Why are you there?

I am a meteorologist. My main job while I'm at work is to keep an eye on the weather. I take weather observations every hour and record information about cloud cover, visibility, temperature, pressure, and wind. Our weather records here go back to the first year the station was built: 1957.

Every day we send up two huge weather balloons (about 5 feet in diameter) into the atmosphere. Attached to them is a miniature weather station called a radiosonde that records temperature, pressure and wind data and sends them back to us via radio signal. I also send out the current weather conditions and weather balloon reports, as well as daily, weekly, monthly (and yearly) climatological summaries to meteorologists at McMurdo Station, who send out this information out to the rest of the world.

My job is called meteorologist, but I am neither a researcher nor forecaster. There are two reasons for having meteorologists at the South Pole, however. Primarily, we are here to provide weather information to pilots in the summer when we actually have an operational airfield. The second reason is to collect data for researchers and climatologists. As you can imagine, weather data for the Southern Hemisphere are sparse, especially in Antarctica, so any data collected here are quite valuable to scientists who study global weather and climate.

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How tall are you? In the picture on the front page it looks like you stand about seven feet!

That can be blamed on accidental trick photography. I am really only 5í 11 12/3".

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Whatís a Poley? (Polie, Polee)

"Poley" is the South Polish term for an inhabitant of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It has also been written "Polie." I debated which way to spell the word when I created the web site. "Polie" seems to be the more common spelling, but I prefer "Poley" because it contains the whole word "Pole." This web site is my feeble attempt to get my spelling of the word into common usage. I suppose it could also be spelled "Polee," but that just looks ridiculous

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What is South Polish?

I donít know. It certainly has nothing to do with Poland though. I guess it is the language spoken at the South Pole. Although English is the main language here, there are many terms we use that are found in few other places, if any. I suppose this lingo comes from the vernacular of a mix of dialects: Southern, Amundsen-Scottish, Native Antarctican, and Penguish. The navy also had a lasting influence on the vocabulary of Poleys.

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If you had $100 to buy anything in the civilized world you want, what would it be?

Milk. Fresh Kemps milk from the Cub Foods store by the house where I grew up in Minnesota. I just can't do the powdered stuff. Although there is truly not one thing I'm dying for, milk would have to be at the top of my wish list. Nothing else even comes to mind.

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