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Norwegian-American Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica

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Pole of Inaccessibility

One of our stops along the traverse will be at the Pole of Inaccessibility. A pole of inaccessibility is the location in a continent that is the farthest from any ocean. Though just a remote and imaginary point on an endless, white plain, this particular spot has an interesting history of its own.

(Text by Tom Neumann)

The idea is that the farther inland a point is, the more difficult it is to reach. For most continents, modern transportation makes reaching the point of inaccessibility relatively easy. However, given the unique challenges of traveling in Antarctica, the southern Pole of Inaccessibility has only been visited a few times in history.

Disputed location

The location of the southern Pole of Inaccessibility is open to some debate, depending on whether one defines the edge of Antarctica by the edge of the ice that rests on land, or the edge of the ice sheet, including the ice shelves. The most frequently used location is 82° 06’S, 54° 58’E (while other sources give 82°53’S, 55°4’E; 83°50’S, 65°43’E (as determined by the British Antarctic Survey); 85°50’S, 65°47’E (as determined by the Scott Polar Research Institute)). Using the most common definition, the Pole of Inaccessibility lies 885 km (or 532 statute miles) from the South Pole and is approximately 3800 meters above sea level.

Soviet research station

This point was first surveyed by IL-12 airplane by the 3rd Soviet Antarctic Expedition in December 1957, as part of the International Geophysical Year. This was a reconnaissance flight to scout a route for an overland party later in the year. The overland traverse left the coastal station of Mirny with 32 men in ten tractors in mid-December and reached Komsomolskaya Station on 17 January 1958. A smaller group of eight tractors continued on toward the Pole of Inaccessibility on 3 February. An additional advance station, Sovetskaya, was established a week later and 540 kilometers in the direction of the Pole of Inaccessibility, and a group of four were left to over-winter.

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Figure 1. The ‘Pingvin’ tractors used by the 3rd Soviet Antarctic Expedition to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility in December 1958. N. Gvozdetsky.

(All images are clickable.)
Pole of Inaccessibility 2Figure 2. A 1967 map of Pole of Inaccessibility station indicating locations of: 1. astronomical measurement point, 2. thermometer well, 3. explosives borehole, blocked with a drum at the top, 4. radio mast, 5. meteorological mast, 6. weather measurements site, 7. cabin (on a sled), 8. model N15 caterpillar tractor, 9. sled with two fuel tanks, 10. Soviet empty drums, 11. Soviet runway, 12. American runway, 13. American fuel depot, 14. American empty drums, 15. geomagnetic site, 16. iron drums, 17. bamboo stakes. N. Gvozdetsky.

The final push began with a new group of traverse vehicles leaving Mirny Station in September 1958. They reached the winter-over party at Sovetskaya Station on 29 November after traveling approximately 1400 km from Mirny. A team of 17 men (lead by Yevgeny Tolstikov) traveling via ‘Pingvin’ tractors (Figure 1) left Sovetskaya on 3 December and reached the Pole of Inaccessibility on 14 December 1958 after traveling some 2100 km. Upon arrival, the group celebrated, launched rockets and raised the Soviet flag. The party proceeded to establish a small research station (referred to as the Pole of Inaccessibility station) which consisted of a few temporary structures, and a small cabin for 4 persons mounted on a sledge (Figure 2, map of station). Measurements were made along the entire route from the coast, consisting of seismic soundings of the ice thickness, as well as meteorological, glaciological, gravimetric, and geomagnetic observations. The meteorological program continued while the station was occupied.

On 19 December, a flight arrived to exchange some of the personnel and bring supplies. The remaining members left on 26 December 1958 and arrived back at Mirny on 18 January 1959. Upon leaving the Pole of Inaccessibility station, the expedition left a bust of V.I. Lenin on top of the chimney of the cabin (Figure 3) facing Moscow.

The station was next reached by the 1963-1964 8th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, which traveled from Vostok Station with 3 tractors and 16 men (lead by A. Kapitsa) on 3 January 1964. Again, seismic soundings as well as meteorological and glaciological observations were made during the traverse. This traversed benefited from resupply of food and fuel from airplanes as needed throughout the traverse. The group reached the Pole of Inaccessibility on 1 February 1964, the first visit in six years. The expedition stayed only a few days, leaving again on 6 February and continued on to the vicinity of 78°S, 20°E before turning toward Molodezhnaya Station (a Soviet coastal station established in Feb. 1962, and closed in 1989). The group reached the coastal station on 21 March 1964.

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Figure 3. Cabin at Pole of Inaccessibility Station showing bust of Lenin, Dec. 1965. O. Orheim photo.
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Figure 4. Vehicles used on South Pole - Queen Maud Land Traverses (two Model 843 Tucker Sno-Cats and one Model 742) from 1964-1968. C. Bentley photo.

South Pole - Queen Maud Land Traverse

In January 1965, the first South Pole - Queen Maud Land Traverse (QMLT I) ended at the Pole of Inaccessibility Station. This was the first leg of three U.S. organized traverses in Dronning Maud Land. This traverse used two Model 843 Tucker Sno-Cats and one Model 742 Sno-Cat (Figure 4). These vehicles were driven from McMurdo to the South Pole in the 1960-61 season, and were used on two traverses between the Pole and the Transantarctic Mountains prior to the QMLT traverses. The QMLT I traverse left South Pole on 4 December 1964, and arrived at the Pole of Inaccessibility on 28 January 1965. The traverse party remained at the station for about a week; the traverse vehicles and equipment remained on site over the winter, while the participants were flown to South Pole and on to McMurdo.

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Figure 5. Clear plastic tent erected over traverse vehicles at Pole of Inaccessibility in Nov. 1965. O. Orheim photo.
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Figure 6. Temperatures were 15° to 20° warmer inside plastic tent. O. Orheim photo.

On 22 November 1965, the participants of QMLT II arrived at the Pole of Inaccessibility. They were there for over three weeks preparing the vehicles and equipment for travel, until leaving on 15 December. During those three weeks, the outside air temperature was frequently below -40° C, with winds of approximately 5 meters per second (about 10 miles per hour) making out door work decidedly unpleasant. In order to make the work more bearable, the team erected a large tent (30 m by 25 m) of clear plastic (Figure 5) over the vehicles. The clear plastic, sunny skies and dark vehicles combined to raise the temperature inside the tent by 15° to 20° (Figure 6), making the maintenance work more bearable. Eventually, the plastic developed tears, and the team used the pieces around camp (Figure 7) for a similar purpose to improve everyday life.

Later visits

The station was next occupied the following year when the 12th 1966-1967 Soviet Antarctic Expedition visited as part of a traverse from Molodezhnaya Station to the Pole of Inaccessibility to Plateau Station to Junction Point to Novolazarevskaya Station. During this visit, the station was mapped (Figure 2). These were the last visitors to the station for 40 years.

In December 2006 a multinational expedition of four people, Team N2i (, set out for the Pole of Inaccessibility with kite skis and sleds, reaching the station on 19 January 2007. They found that the bust of Lenin was still visible (Figure 8) as were several of the meteorological masts, although attempts to dig down and enter the hut were unsuccessful.

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Figure 7. Pole of Inaccessibility Station, December 1965. O. Orheim photo.
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Figure 8. Pole of Inaccessibility Station, January 2007. Teamn2i photo.

Until the advent of airborne geophysics, these early traverses provided virtually all of the information known about the interior of the East Antarctic ice sheet. Even today, much of the route we plan to cover has only very limited information about ice thickness, bed topography and surface characteristics. We plan to spend approximately five days in the vicinity of the Pole of Inaccessibility station in late December or early January 2008 conducting a range of scientific experiments: collecting ice cores, radar data, installing a weather station, conducting UAV flights and making firn temperature measurements.


The above summary benefited from the personal experiences of Charlie Bentley (QMLT I), John Clough (QMLT II and III), Henry Cookson (Team N2I), Olav Orheim (QMLT II), as well as Bill Spindler (who maintains and the extremely interesting book by N. Gvozdetsky (Soviet Geographical Explorations and Discoveries).

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