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Historic Modular Construction at South Pole

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

The geographic South Pole at the center of the Antarctic continent is one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. I had the good fortune as a 19-year-old in 1973 to be part of a construction team that built what was then the “New South Pole Station” for the National Science Foundation.


We arrived in a ski equipped C-130 Navy transport when the summer temperature warmed up and was above -79°F because the hydraulic fluid to control the aircraft would gel and be useless when the temperature is below -79°. The construction team (Navy Seabees) lived in insulated tents heated with diesel fuel. We worked 12-hour days with one crew taking the first 12 and the other crew taking the second 12. It is daylight 24 hours a day in the summer.


The Geodesic Dome

The project consisted of 3 two-story modular buildings inside of a 165’ diameter aluminum geodesic dome. The modular buildings were made in Canada, shipped by sea to McMurdo on the coast of Antarctica, then airlifted in the C-130s to the South Pole. We used bulldozers to pull the units out of the plane and dragged them on skids into the dome.





Because the South Pole is over land but on top of 9000 feet of ice, there is no ground to build on. We graded the ice/snow and then melted snow and filled the foundation trench with water. It froze very quickly and became the ice foundation for the dome and buildings. There was no concern it would melt as the warmest day that year was around Christmas – the peak of Southern Hemisphere summer – when it got up to -13°F. We played football in the snow that Christmas and were in shirt sleeves as we could – almost – feel the sun and as dry as it is there (driest place on Earth – drier than the Sahara Desert), we were only a little chilly at that temperature. Being young and in our late teens and early 20s, we had a great time playing in the snow.


The three modular buildings were in place by Christmas and after Christmas the temperature started falling again. We worked feverishly to get the interior finish done in the three buildings and complete work on fuel storage areas and generators before we left. As with today’s modular buildings, they came about 90% complete but needed to be bolted together and have the interior finish including some drywall, trim and flooring put in onsite. Our utilities folks connected the water and electricity to the buildings. My job was interior finish including completion of the new bar for the station. We had the first drink at the new bar in April 1973.


Once the temperature started falling to near the freezing point of hydraulic fluid and the sun was getting close to the horizon, we were told it was time to leave or be stuck there all winter. The station was completed the next year and turned over to NSF in 1975 where it provided shelter and scientific labs for scientists until it was replaced in 2008. You can read more at the NSF website.


I am pleased to be a modular consultant with Morgan Davonn and I know from experience that we can build residential or commercial modular buildings just about anywhere! Reach out to us as we would like to hear your ideas for how modular can meet your needs.


The Seabee Construction Camp - We Called it Dry Gulch

The Author in 1973



The Author at South Pole Marker

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