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People carry flags.
Photo Credit: Marissa Goerke
Members of the 2015 South Pole Station winter-over crew remove the flags that encircle the ceremonial pole for the winter. The flags represent the original 12 nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty.

Numbers game

2015 South Pole winter-over crew includes new records for youth, longevity

Spending a winter in Antarctica is just as challenging as it sounds. For the 45 people who remain at the South Pole Station through the cold and dark months this year, winter is a unique experience shared by a rare few.

In fact, only 1,454 people have wintered over at the South Pole since the first station was built in 1957, according to Bill Spindler’s annual tally on his website, www.southpolestation.com External Non-U.S. government site. The unofficial historian of South Pole, Spindler wintered over three times at 90 degrees south, the first time in 1977. “I do continue to enjoy it,” Spindler says of the annual compilation. “I'm a long-time student of the station population dynamics and interaction.”

Each year, Spindler updates his voluminous list of South Pole winter-over stats, beginning with the latest winter-over crew, usually around the time when the sun sets for the first and last time of the year due to the station’s extreme southern latitude. This year sunset was at 2:13 p.m. local time on March 23. It won’t fully reappear until 5:03 p.m. on Sept. 21.

The 2015 winter-over team consists of 37 men and eight women. Nine of this year’s crew have wintered at least once, and this winter includes two Polies who have each wintered a record 11 times – Robert Schwarz and Johan Booth. This year Schwarz also tied the record for consecutive winters at five, joining Joseph “Jake Speed” Gibbons, who was the only other Polie to accomplish the feat back in 2000-2004.

A few other new records also emerged this winter, according to Spindler. Marissa Goerke, one of two research associates on station charged with overseeing a number of experiments, is the youngest women to winter at Pole. She turned 23 in February. A couple of new nations are also represented this winter: facilities engineer Nizar Hashemi was born Iraq and meteorologist Supria Calvert-Reisner was born in Thailand.

The 2015 crew is a little larger than recent years, though far short of the record 86 people who wintered in 2005 during construction of the new research station. The first winter crew in 1957 included 18 men and one dog, Bravo.

The percentage of women wintering this year is near the historical average of about 15 percent, as only 214 women have wintered over at the South Pole. The first woman, Michele Raney, didn’t achieve that mark until 1979. Heidi Lim holds the record for the most winters at Pole for a female at five.

Booth is tied for the all-time record of winters in Antarctica with George Lampman, who works at McMurdo Station. Both men are spending their 17th winter on the southernmost continent. The record-holder for women, Angela Garner, is not far behind, with 14 winters, all of them at McMurdo Station.

[See the 2014 winter-over stats for South Pole — It all adds up: Latest South Pole winter-over crew includes two people with 10 seasons each.]

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Curator: Michael Lucibella, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Peter West, Office of Polar Programs