The South Pole

The ceremonial South Pole at 90ºS in Antarctica
Bill Spindler

The South Pole is the southernmost point on the Earth's surface. It is at 90˚S latitude and it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the North Pole. The South Pole is located in Antarctica and it is at the site of the United States Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, a research station that was established in 1956.

Geography of the South Pole

The Geographic South Pole is defined as the southern point on Earth's surface that crosses the Earth's axis of rotation. This is the South Pole that is located at the site of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It moves about 33 feet (ten meters) because it is located on a moving ice sheet. The South Pole is on an ice plateau about 800 miles (1,300 km) from McMurdo Sound. The ice at this location is about 9,301 feet (2,835 m) thick. As a result ice's movement, the location of the Geographic South Pole, also called the Geodetic South Pole, must be recalculated yearly on January 1.

Usually, the coordinates of this location are just expressed in terms of latitude (90˚S) because it essentially has no longitude as it is located where the meridians of longitude converge. Although, if longitude is given it is said to be 0˚W. In addition, all points moving away from the South Pole face north and must have a latitude below 90˚ as they move north toward the Earth's equator. These points are still given in degrees south however because they are in the Southern Hemisphere.

Because the South Pole has no longitude, it is difficult to tell time there. In addition, time cannot be estimated by using the sun's position in the sky either because it rises and sets only once a year at the South Pole (due to its extreme southern location and the Earth's axial tilt). Thus, for convenience, time is kept in New Zealand time at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Magnetic and Geomagnetic South Pole

Like the North Pole, the South Pole also has magnetic and geomagnetic poles which differ from the 90˚S Geographic South Pole. According to the Australian Antarctic Division, the Magnetic South pole is the location on the Earth's surface where "the direction of the Earth's magnetic field is vertically upwards." This forms a magnetic dip that is 90˚ at the Magnetic South Pole. This location moves about 3 miles (5 km) per year and in 2007 it was located at 64.497˚S and 137.684˚E.

The Geomagnetic South Pole is defined by the Australian Antarctic Division as the point of intersection between the Earth's surface and the axis of a magnetic dipole that approximates the Earth's center and the beginning of the Earth's magnetic field. The Geomagnetic South Pole is estimated to be located at 79.74˚S and 108.22˚E. This location is near the Vostok Station, a Russian research outpost.

Exploration of the South Pole

Although exploration of Antarctica began in the mid-1800's, attempted exploration of the South Pole did not occur until 1901. In that year, Robert Falcon Scott attempted the first expedition from Antarctica's coastline to the South Pole. His Discovery Expedition lasted from 1901 to 1904 and on December 31, 1902, he reached 82.26˚S but he did not travel any farther south.

Shortly thereafter, Ernest Shackleton, who had been on Scott's Discovery Expedition, launched another attempt to reach the South Pole. This expedition was called the Nimrod Expedition and on January 9, 1909, he came within 112 miles (180 km) from the South Pole before he had to turn back.

Finally in 1911 however, Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the Geographic South Pole on December 14. Upon reaching the pole, Amundsen established a camp named Polhiem and named the plateau that the South Pole is on, King Haakon VII Vidde. 34 days later on January 17, 1912, Scott, who was attempting to race Amundsen, also reached the South Pole, but on his return home Scott and his entire expedition died due to cold and starvation.

Following Amundsen and Scott's reaching the South Pole, people did not return there until October 1956. In that year, U.S. Navy Admiral George Dufek landed there and shortly thereafter, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was established from 1956-1957. People did not reach the South Pole by land though until 1958 when Edmund Hillary and Vivian Fuchs launched the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Since the 1950s, most of the people on or near the South Pole have been researchers and scientific expeditions. Since the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was established in 1956, researchers have continually staffed it and recently it has been upgraded and expanded to allow more people to work there throughout the year.

To learn more about the South Pole and to view webcams, visit the ESRL Global Monitoring's South Pole Observatory website.


Australian Antarctic Division. (21 August 2010). Poles and Directions: Australian Antarctic Division.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). ESRL Global Monitoring Division - South Pole Observatory. (18 October 2010). South Pole - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

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Briney, Amanda. "The South Pole." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Briney, Amanda. (2020, August 27). The South Pole. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "The South Pole." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).