Q & A with South Pole Meteorologist

Timothy Markle is the meteorology manager at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Here’s what he has to say about weather and climate at the Pole.

What is a typical day like at South Pole?

A typical day here in the summer months at the meteorology department is really to observe the weather here (right now we have some very deteriorating weather conditions). What we’re doing is observing and coding this to help support the flight operations that go on, not only here at South Pole, but all around the continent as well. We are also looking at the climatology of the South Pole and Antarctica as a whole. We’ve been taking weather observations here since 1957 . So, over 52 years of continuous weather data here has given us a great climatological database in terms of studying the atmospheric conditions: the temperature, the clouds and the trends … basically, what’s going on on the continent.

Interview with Timothy Markle

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What are some of those trends, especially as far as temperature data at South Pole Station?

The temperature trends here at South Pole Station are quite puzzling, actually. Interestingly enough, South Pole, since 1957, has been getting a little bit colder every year. We’re actually about 3.5 degrees Celsius [6.3 degrees Fahrenheit] colder now than when we starting taking records back in the late ’50s. No one really knows why that is happening. Also, oddly enough, 2009 (we just compiled our annual temperature and weather data for 2009) was the warmest year on record down here at South Pole. So, even though we are trending toward the colder end in terms of the long-term, in the short-term it has been very variable and we have seen warmer-than-usual temperatures here.

Can you explain the temperature trends on the Antarctic coast versus South Pole?

What we’re seeing on the coast of Antarctica is very similar to what we’re seeing up in the Arctic as well. Temperatures are going up by as much as six degrees [10.8 degrees Fahrenheit]. We’re seeing large blocks of ice that are breaking away from the ice shelves here along the coast, especially toward the Antarctic peninsula out toward South America … that area of the Antarctic, especially. But, here in the interior of the continent — and only at South Pole — are we seeing it get colder. Other interior stations like Vostok or Dome Fuji … they’re still trending warmer as well. So, that might actually be linked to, say, the ozone hole, which is most prevalent here at South Pole. There are theories that those two are tied together, but nothing proven as of yet.

What is the worst weather you have seen in Antarctica?

Oddly enough, we don’t really get “bad” weather here; it’s either very cold and very calm or it’s kind of like today, when winds are picking up and it’s foggy. But, with the winds and the fog come warmer temperatures. I would say the worst weather is a mix of the two in the heart of wintertime, when the temperature is still a little bit cold — minus 60, minus 70 [-75, -95 Fahrenheit]– and then those winds shift and start picking up and we can see wind chills down around minus 150 [-238 Fahrenheit].

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