Southern Pole of Inaccessibility

Southern Pole of Inaccessibility

The Southern Point of Inaccessibility in Antarctica is one of the Big 7, original PIA’s

The precise location of the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility is even more difficult to determine than most PIAs.  Apart from the usual topographical errors and accuracy of survey data, it is very difficult to determine the exact location of the ‘coastline’.  Movement of ice sheets, calving of ice shelves, snowfall, freezing and melting make accurate determination all but impossible.

For all the other Poles we have taken the work of Daniel Garcia-Castellanos et al to be the definitive.  They calculated the PIA to be at

  • Latitude: 82°58’12″S
  • Longitude: 54°58’12″E
  • Distance from sea: 808 miles
Schematic location of the Southern PIA Location
Schematic location of the Southern PIA Location

More recently, in 2005, the British Antarctic Survey quoted the most accurately measurable coordinates, not taking account of ice shelves, to be:

  • Latitude: 82°53’14″S
  • Longitude: 55°04’30″E

This is probably still the best estimate for the location of the true Southern PIA. The same survey calculated the PIA taking ice shelves into account, they calculate the pole at:

  • Latitude: 83°50’37″S
  • Longitude: 65°43’30″E

However, the edges of the ice shelves are obviously one of the most variable parameters and this point is almost certainly out of date and now incorrect.

Historic Southern Pole of Inaccessibility

For many explorers, The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility is generally accepted to be at the site of a former Soviet Union research station which was defined by the 3rd Soviet Antarctic Expedition in December 1958. This is perhaps best described as the “Historic Southern pole of Inaccessibility”.

Soviet Union research station at Southern PIA
Soviet Union research station at the Historic Southern Pole of Inaccessibility

The station, which was used to perform meteorological measurements, was built at:

  • Latitude: 82°06’S
  • Longitude: 54°58’E

This location is 878km from the South Pole proper, 87km from the British Antarctic survey PIA and 5631km from the nearest city, Cape Town in South Africa. The average temperature is in the region of -58.2°C.

The base is also at an altitude of 3720m but subject to variation with the depth of snow and ice.  Many people don’t realise how high the poles in Antarctica are, due to thick layers of ice. These heights are roughly equivalent to the top runs in an Alpine ski resort and staying at them can cause altitude sickness if you arrive too quickly, as Buzz Aldrin discovered when he had to be medically evacuated in December 2016 – an expedition that yours truly took part in.

Equipment for the construction of the base – an accommodation hut, an electrical hut and a radio shack – was delivered by a tractor convoy. These buildings have long-since been abandoned and are now buried beneath the snow. 

Russian Station tractor convoy
1958 Russian Station tractor convoy. Photo: N. Gvozdetsky

All that remains visible is a bust of Lenin which the Soviets placed at the site facing towards Moscow, along with a plaque commemorating the ‘conquest’ of the Antarctic Pole of Inaccessibility.  This has since been designated an Historic Monument by the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat.

Apparently poor old Lenin has not only had to suffer the extreme cold, loneliness and imminent burial, but he became part of a Cold War tit for tat with Americans in a multinational expedition paying him a visit in 1964 and swivelling him to face Washington DC.  Upon hearing of this change of aspect, the Soviets promptly mounted another expedition to turn him back towards Moscow.