Time, Direction, and other Antarctic Logistics (FAQ)

How do directions work in Antarctica?

In many cases, people use standard directions just as they would anywhere else. This is especially true for shorter trips at more northerly latitudes. Cardinal directions are less effective closer to the geographic South Pole, from which all directions are north. People passing through or over the Pole often rely on a system of gridlines that lies flat over Antarctica, much as lines of latitude and longitude do on other parts of the world.

A jet navigation chart showing the parallel gridlines intersecting with the curved latitude and longitude lines.
A jet navigation chart with gridlines overlapping with the latitude and longitude lines. Source: University of Texas Libraries

Does Antarctica have roads?

Antarctica does not have an established, continental road system. There are some localized road systems at research stations, but these are usually small, unpaved roads without roadsigns. There are also a few large, groomed snow routes, such as the South Pole Traverse. These are used only for the transportation of heavy supplies that are too expensive to ship by air.

The view of McMurdo Station from Observation Hill showing the roads connecting the buildings
The view of McMurdo Station from Observation Hill showing the roads connecting the buildings

Does Antarctica have airports?

There are no commercial airports in Antarctica. There are several landing strips, but most of these cannot accommodate wheeled vehicles and are therefore considered "skiways" instead of runways. The runways that do exist, like Phoenix Airfield, depend on well-packed and frozen ice and are therefore seasonal. The Australian Antarctic Program has plans to construct an aerodrome at Davis Station which, if constructed, would be the first paved runway on the continent.

A ski plane at Williams Airfield on the Ross Ice Shelf
A ski plane at Williams Airfield on the Ross Ice Shelf

How do people communicate in Antarctica?

People in Antarctica use many of the same methods of communication as anywhere else in the world: internet, phone, and mail. Everything is more complicated in Antarctica, though, so all of these methods tend to be slower than they would be elsewhere in the world. There is no mobile phone service in Antarctica, and some locations still use landlines as the primary method of communication. People in more remote locations use satellite phones.

A landline inside a room at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
A landline inside a room at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. All US stations use Denver area codes.

What time zone does Antarctica use?

The time zones people use in Antarctica vary from location to location. Stations usually use the time zone of the city where supplies and personnel arrive from. For example, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is an American station, but it uses the time zone of Christchurch, New Zealand. This makes the coordination of transport and shipments easier.


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