A team led by legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, in December 1911. Amundsen used sled dogs and mushers to navigate a route to the pole, and his team included expert skiers.

Photograph by Steve Nicklas, NOS, NGS

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  • On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen and his team arrived at the pole five weeks ahead of their rival, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. (Perhaps more importantly, Amundsen and his team returned from their journey, while Scott’s expedition perished.)

    The South Pole was one of the last terrestrial locations explored on Earth, and Antarctica remains a difficult place to visit today. Temperatures can drop as low as -80 degrees Celsius (-112 °Fahrenheit) in the winter. Ice covers 98% of the continent, and is more than a kilometer deep.

    Once explorers like Amundsen conquered the South Pole, scientists moved in. The unique isolation of Antarctica makes it important for studying Earth at its extremes. About 5,000 researchers work in Antarctica, studying climate, glaciers, biodiversity, astronomy, and even paleontology in the most extreme part of the planet.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    astronomy Noun

    the study of space beyond Earth's atmosphere.

    biodiversity Noun

    all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: biodiversity
    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    conquer Verb

    to overcome an enemy or obstacle.

    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    expedition Noun

    journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

    glacier Noun

    mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: glacier
    ice Noun

    water in its solid form.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ice
    isolation Noun

    state of being alone or separated from a community.

    journey Noun

    voyage or trip.

    paleontology Noun

    the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.

    Encyclopedic Entry: paleontology
    perish Verb

    to die or be destroyed.

    planet Noun

    large, spherical celestial body that regularly rotates around a star.

    Encyclopedic Entry: planet
    South Pole Noun

    fixed point that, along with the North Pole, forms the axis on which the Earth spins.

    Encyclopedic Entry: South Pole
    temperature Noun

    degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.

    Encyclopedic Entry: temperature
    terrestrial Adjective

    having to do with the Earth or dry land.

    unique Adjective

    one of a kind.