Vistas, Science and Staying Warm at the South Pole
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The South Pole, it conjures images of stark ice sheets, numbing cold and intrepid adventurers. It's also become a popular destination for scientists who study climate change. Because when it comes to the world's weather, Antarctica is a major player.
NPR's Daniel Zwerdling is in Antarctica, reporting for NPR's Climate Connection series with National Geographic. He reached us today by satellite phone from the South Pole. And he joins us now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DANIEL ZWERDLING: Hey, Michele. Wish you were here.
NORRIS: Well, I'm not. So you'll have to describe it for us. Just how cold is the South?
ZWERDLING: (Unintelligible) First of all, I am standing, literally, next to the geographical South Pole. In fact, my hand is clutched around this brass marker. And I'm pretending that I'm implanting it on behalf of NPR.
NORRIS: I hope someone is taking pictures.
ZWERDLING: And the landscape, Michele, it is spectacular. I mean, I'm looking at this endless, pristine, austere, brilliant light, expanse of snow and ice stretching in every direction to the horizon. And one of the most astonishing things down here is that we can actually begin to see the curve of the Earth because the end of the globe is a little squeezed, and we're up on an elevation. So it's like we're standing on top of the world. Well, we're on the bottom of the world. And the sky above us is brilliant blue and there's nobody. I mean, there's nothing. There are not - there aren't caribou herds that wander past. There aren't polar bears. There aren't penguins. This is an empty wilderness. It is an amazing feeling to be standing here.
NORRIS: You know, I was thinking about how cold your hands get when you're out in the cold. How do you keep your hands warm right now, since you're holding on to that pole?
ZWERDLING: Michele, they're not warm. They're starting to tingle.
NORRIS: Oh, no.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ZWERDLING: But I have on two layers of gloves and they even gave me these chemical hard warmers, but I have to say my hands are getting a little heavy.
NORRIS: Now, you're down there with the National Science Foundation. What kind of science goes on at the pole?
ZWERDLING: This is something else, you know, (unintelligible). There is a huge amount of money being spent down here and the most spectacular kinds of science. And basically, scientists want to study what has happened to the Earth over the last several hundred thousand years in terms of climate change. This is the best place in the world to do it because it is the driest place on Earth. It's the coldest place on Earth. And so that means it's the cleanest place on Earth. You know, there's almost no pollution or even moisture that would interfere in the background of scientific experiments. So there are some heavy-hitter scientists down here with hundreds of million of dollars worth of telescopes and, you know, all kinds of high-tech equipment who are trying to figure out how the universe was born and where the Earth might end up.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Daniel Zwerdling at the South Pole, reporting for NPR's Climate Connection series. His reports on that series will be airing on NPR throughout the month of March.