As the Antarctic winter solstice approaches, the South Pole becomes shrouded in darkness and temperatures plummet below -100F (-73C). With the extreme conditions come spectacular displays of Aurora Australis, Yukimarimos, and 300 Club activities.
Phenomena of the South Polar Night
With the darkness come amazing displays of aurora australis. Fantastic photos and video taken by overwinter staff are available on the USAP website and various personal blogs. There is also a dramatic hand-held video on YouTube, by Daniel Leussler.
Then there are Yukimarimos, fragile snowballs that form only in the heart of the Antarctic plateau and only in winter. South Pole waste management specialist Marie Mclane blogged about discovering Yukimarimos on a frigid day when she went outside to dip the fuel tanks. “These balls of snow form best deep in the Antarctic winter, when the air temperature is below minus 60 °C (minus 76 °F), and there is a gentle wind blowing – conditions under which even well-equipped polar explorers stay in heated buildings. In this frigid environment, delicate needles of hoar frost form on the surface of the snow. Some of these are rolled about by the wind and create these fragile snowballs, which grow to a size of about 30 mm.”
The phenomenon has only recently been scientifically documented. Japanese researchers discovered the dainty snowballs at Dome Fuji and named them ‘yukimarimo’. ‘Yuki’ is the Japanese for snow, and ‘marimo’ is a globular water plant found in a lake in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island.” More information about Yukimarimos can be found in this Nature article. www.nature.com/news/1999/990902/full/news990902-9.html
300 Club Activities
Mid-winter temperatures can drop below -100F (-73C), triggering ‘300 Club’ activities. Station personnel first warm up in the sauna, heated to +200F (93C); then run naked in the snow to the Ceremonial Pole in -100 degree weather; and finally run around the Pole and back inside the station, thus surviving a 300 degree temperature change!
Waiting for Summer
While a few lucky (?!) souls may spend the winter at Antarctic research stations, the rest of us are eagerly await the Antarctic summer to explore the South Pole. Imagine setting foot at the South Pole – Amundsen and Scott’s coveted prize; or overnighting at that most remote destination on earth.
Learn more about South Pole Overnight
Banner image: Keith Vanderlinde, National Science Foundation
South Pole Weather: Marie McLane, National Science Foundation
Yukimarimos: Keith Vanderlinde, National Science Foundation