Poles Apart

With Christmas just 10 days away it’s impossible that attention would be paid to any but the North Pole, isn’t it? Maybe there’s some polar sibling rivalry at work, because the South Pole has found a way to make its own headlines.

The geodesic dome that has protected over-winter scientists at the South Pole since 1975 is being replaced:

It was never supposed to hang around this long. Ten years, maybe 15 at most. Perhaps that’s why the South Pole Dome — a modestly sized structure spanning 164 feet and topping out at about 52 feet high — has loomed so large in the lore and legacy of polar history. The final chapter in that story will be completed 35 years after the U.S. Antarctic Program’s most iconic research station was officially dedicated in January 1975. The dome, the second research station built at the geographic South Pole, is coming down.

David Klaus observes, “The buildings which replaced it, while designed well, have no visual character. They just look like buildings on stilts. Geodesic domes are special.”

The unofficial historian of the South Pole… was matter-of-fact when asked about its imminent disassembly.

“When I showed up at Pole in 1976, the dome made the new station seem state-of-the-art,” he wrote in an e-mail. “No more collapsing snow tunnels, lots of storage space, and an instant icon for the U.S. Antarctic Research Program.

“But snow happens, things get old, drifts build up and structures get stressed,” he added. “As an engineer, my feeling at this point is that the dome has outlived its usefulness at Pole and needs to go away before it becomes a structural hazard.”