He studies weather at the South Pole

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Russ Durkee is a meteorologist at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. As part of a team of four meteorologists, he is recording and observing weather for research and the daily operations of the station.

Amundsen-Scott Station has been staffed continuously for nearly 50 years, and weather observations have been made almost every hour since then.

It's exciting to be contributing to the long and important record of climate.

Out in the cold

When on duty, Durkee must suit up each hour and venture out to the geographic south pole marker to make a weather observation. Every twelve hours, he launches weather balloons to measure the temperature profile of the atmosphere. In addition to recording temperature, wind strength, and direction, Durkee must determine the surface visibility and how high the clouds are.

Each day there are about six flights, loaded with fuel, scientists, and other supplies, in and out of the station.

Here, a U.S. Air Force ski-equipped LC-130 airplane prepares to take off from Amundson-Scott South Pole Station. Only ski-equipped planes can land there. These planes, flown by the New York National Guard, are the primary method of transporting supplies and people to and from the South Pole. (Photo by Emily Stone, courtesy National Science Foundation)

"It takes practice to tell if a cloud is 1,000 or 5,000 above the ground. The ability to determine cloud altitudes and visibility is very important to the pilots who are dependant on these observations to decide whether it is safe to land at the Pole."

Durkee is an Exhibit Prototyper at the Science Museum of Minnesota when he's not studying weather at the South Pole.

Why study at the South Pole?

"Antarctica is the highest, driest, and coldest continent on Earth."

The cold, dry atmosphere at the Pole is uniquely suited for astronomy, and the air is some of the cleanest on Earth. The pristine environment, far from air and light pollution, allows scientists to get good baseline measurements. Some kinds of research can't be done anywhere else.

Atmospheric scientists are monitoring ozone, greenhouse gases, and air quality, among other things. (The hole in the ozone layer was discovered in Antarctica and is monitored from there regularly.) There are also several telescopes at South Pole station: one searches for planets orbiting nearby stars, some study radiation from the early universe, and others look at the sky in the Infrared.

The research station at the bottom of the world.

(Photo by Michael Hoffman, courtesy National Science Foundation)

The current station, shown here, was built in 1975. It's too small to house the number of scientists who want to work at the Pole during the "summer"-the warmer months from October through December-and it's also being buried by drifting snow. A new research station, which will sit on stilts, is under construction nearby. It is expected to be finished in 2007.

The whole continent of Antarctica is "...a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science." Check out the Antarctic Treaty (1959), which governs the use of the continent.

Want to know more about what researchers at the South Pole are studying?

See photos from the U.S. Antarctic Program Photo Library.