SOUTH POLE METEOROLOGY
The South Pole MET team's primary function is to provide meteorological support to the various scientific research projects based at the Amundsen-Scott station. This consists of collecting and distributing data such as temperature, wind, and pressure for the surface and upper levels of the atmosphere. Physical assistance to projects is also provided whenever needed.
A secondary function is the daily observation of weather conditions for climatological purposes. There is much to learn about polar weather and how it affects global climatology.
During the austral summer season, meteorological support is provided for flight operations. This consists of hourly aviation observations and twice daily radiosonde observations of the troposphere and stratosphere. The radiosonde flight transmits data on temperature, relative humidity, pressure and wind speed and direction from the surface to heights up to 100,000 feet. This data, along with 6-hourly synoptic observations are passed by high frequency data transmission to McMurdo Station, who then transmits it to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) network for dissemination to the rest of the world.
With station closing in late February, the number of radiosonde flights is reduced to one per day, and surface observations are reduced to four per day at 6-hourly intervals. This data continues to be transmitted to the WMO.
The MET team's regular collection of data year-round is invaluable to the study of climatic change affecting the earth.
------ MET TEAM 1995 - 1996
-- Senior Meteorologist (Winter-over) - Dan P. Ireland
-- Meteorologist (Winter-over) - Elisabeth Grillo
90 DEGREES SOUTH AN INTRODUCTION
The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is located on a polar plateau. The station has an annual mean surface temperature of -57 degrees Fahrenheit, elevation of 9301 feet, and approximately eight inches of snow accumulation per year. The vast ice cap of the East Antarctic Plateau, combined with the lesser ice cap of West Antarctica, contains roughly 90% of the earth's fresh water. Its snow surface reflects approximately 80 to 85% of the sunlight falling upon it, giving it the coldest temperatures on earth.
The seasonal climatic change can be separated into three types of periods. Summer, which is very short, consists of the months of December and January. The transitional periods of fall and spring are February-March and October-November, respectively. The 6- month winter begins at sunset on approximately March 21, and ends in sunrise on approximately September 23. In essence, one year at the South Pole is one day long, with the highest temperatures shortly after noon, and the lowest temperatures during the cold hours before dawn.
The summer season is characterized by light winds, moderate temperatures and frequent precipitation in the form of ice crystals or snow grains. Actual snow flakes have very rarely been observed at the South Pole, due to the extreme cold temperatures.
The fall transition period is characterized by an increase in the frequency and intensity of storm systems. Unlike the northern polar regions. which experience a slow steady drop in temperature, with minimum temperatures shortly after mid-winters day and a gradual warming to spring, the South Pole experiences a so- called coreless winter. During February and March, the average temperature drops rapidly to a mean of -54 degrees Fahrenheit at sunset. It does not cool much more during the 6-month winter. In different years, the coldest month may be anytime between April and September. With the return of the sun, the temperature climbs as rapidly as it fell in the fall.
With the onset of winter, cold air from the Polar Plateau effectively blocks out all but the major storm systems circling the continent. Periods of very cold, clear, and calm weather prevail with frequent light precipitation of ice crystals and snow grains. One of the most common forms of weather here are ground blizzards of varying intensities. The more severe are known as 'white-outs'. These are strictly wind storms, but due to the fine size and extreme dryness of the snow, visibility can be reduced to zero in blowing snow, which can reach heights of up to 500 to 1000 feet.
As the spring transition period progresses after sunrise, the frequency and intensity of storms diminish in conjunction with the rapidly rising temperatures. This is the season of spectacular optical phenomena as ice crystals in the atmosphere reflect and refract the sunlight into halos, sundogs, and arcs. -see the top Photo
The Antarctic continent has a major influence on the climates of the southern hemisphere. As the oceans are the earth's heat reservoir, the South Polar ice cap is a heat sink for the earth.
To better understand the earth's climates in the past, present, and future, it is imperative that a better understanding of Antarctic meteorology be pursued at stations such as this.
Included with this page are statistics to aid you in perceiving the uniqueness of the Antarctic Plateau. Data is derived from records dating from 1957 through the present.
AMUNDSEN-SCOTT SOUTH POLE STATION GENERAL INFORMATION
Elevation: 9301 Feet (above sea level) ------ 2835 meters
Dome Height: 50 feet (at center) ------ 15.8 meters
Dome Diameter: 165 feet ------ 50.0 meters
Dome Area: 21,124 square feet ------ 1962.5 square meters
Maximum Minimum Average - 13.6C - 82.8C -49.4C + 7.5F -117.0F -56.9F (Dec 78) (Jun 82)
Peak Wind Average PrevailingWind Speed/Direction Wind Speed Direction 55 mph/ 060 12 mph 020 degrees 48 knots/ 060 10.4 knots 020 degrees (Aug 89)
Maximum Minimum Average 716.4 millibars 641.7 millibars 681.4 millibars (Aug 74) (Jul 85)
PHYSIO - ALTITUDE
Highest Lowest Average 12,107 feet 9284 feet 10,576 feet 3690 meters 2830 meters 3223 meters
SNOW AND ICE
Snow Accumulation: 8 in 20 cm ------ (3 in melted) (8 cm melted)
Ice Movement: 33 feet per year ------ 10 meters per year
THE FOLLOWING TEMPERATURES ARE IN DEGREES FAHRENHEIT:
Mean Monthly MAXIMUM Temperatures (1957 to present):
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC -15 -36 -60 -64 -64 -66 -69 -68 -68 -55 -34 -15
Mean Monthly MINIMUM Temperatures (1957 to present):
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC -21 -45 -71 -77 -79 -80 -82 -82 -82 -65 -40 -20
Extreme MAXIMUM Temperatures (1957 to present):
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC +5.5 -5.4 -16.1 -19.0 -23.0 -29.0 -29.0 -27.0 -27.0 -21.0 -8.5 +7.5
Extreme MINIMUM Temperatures (1957 to present):
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC -42 -74 -96 -103 -109 -117 -113 -112 -110 -96 -67 -38
Written by Dan Ireland Converted to HTML by William Arens
Note...this page was originally created in 1996 and does not reflect the current South Pole meteorological records. The original link was http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~template/methist.html which is no longer available; the page was recovered from the "Wayback Machine" from a 2008 archive.