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Harsh Continent

Aired February 9, 2003 - 20:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Antarctica. This is a harsh continent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was convinced when I got my job on the South Pole that I would die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the highest, driest, coldest, windiest, loneliest continent on earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the idea that there's a last wild place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so damn cold!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not in Kansas anymore.


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The South Pole is one of the most mysterious and unforgiving places on earth. Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. The size of the United States and Mexico combined, Antarctica is an immense as it is dangerous and still there are those who cannot refuse its allure no matter the risks. But who are these adventurers and how did they survive and what has drawn them to such a forbidding land. CNN's Kyra Phillips journeys to the bottom of the world as CNN PRESENTS: HARSH CONTINENT.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Antarctica, if there is a final frontier on earth, this is it, a five-and-a-half million square mile expanse of ice and frozen tundra that was virtually uncharted until 100 years ago. Antarctica has been the scene of some of the most inspiring human dramas and heart-breaking tragedies. Men determined to reach the South Pole, compelled to explore despite the incomparable natural dangers. Exploring Antarctica is certainly easier now, but it takes effort, will and passion to survive here.

(on camera): Is she talking resolution or is she talking this debate full of...

(voice-over): I'm Kyra Phillips and this is what my life at CNN looks like every day. But I'll be putting all of this aside for now, trading heels for snow boots. We're going to the bottom of the earth to witness life in extreme, explore cutting-edge science and meet the characters who populate this brutal landscape.

Today's American explorers are supported by the National Science Foundation, which makes regular flights to Antarctica from Christ Church, New Zealand. That's where our journey begins. We're flying to Antarctica with some of the 350 men and women who will spend the winter at U.S. bases there.

(on camera): Thank you and see you, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning and welcome aboard (UNINTELLIGIBLE) southbound to Antarctica, the McMurdo Station.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): The adventure begins as the Kiwi Air Force C-130 takes off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-one Z tab for Pegasus and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) copy, over.

PHILLIPS: The National Science Foundation may coordinate this journey, but Mother Nature runs the show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wind's grid 170, sky commission, broken 500 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attention all onboard, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Stage County on your feet, on your feet.

PHILLIPS: Five hours into the flight, we get our first view of the continent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the head bulking mountains.

PHILLIPS: We're set to land at Pegasus Runway on the rock's ice shelf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero, one, two, five, Zulu, freezing fog.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Amazing! No visibility coming down on the ice. Good landing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Antarctica continent.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Our first steps in Antarctica. It's minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, quite a shock to the body.

(on camera): OK, your bag is gone. Sorry, it gets a little distracting when it's just damn cold.

(voice-over): Believe it or not that's mild in this place where temperatures can sometimes hit 120 below.

From Atlanta, we've traveled 1,400 miles to the bottom of the world, 32 hours in the air and here we are. From the airstrip, it's an hour-long ride to the largest base in Antarctica. McMurdo Station was established in 1956. During the Antarctica summer, from October to February, McMurdo is the summer home for about 1,000 scientists, support personnel and the occasional tourist.

(on camera): Here's our view.

(voice-over): Well, it's not much to look at, but it's shelter. As we're about to find out, without shelter you've got problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the time where you're the most vulnerable, when you're caught without any shelter to run into or any means of melting snow or producing a meal or getting warm. That's a situation you don't want to be in for a long time.

PHILLIPS: The first order of business for any new arrival to Antarctica is learning how to survive in the world's worst weather. Everyone who travels here must go through snow survival school to learn what to do if stranded on the ice. We're all first-timers except Ted Detmar (ph) and Brennan Bruner (ph). They're our survival instructors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Scott tent. It was known as the Polar tent until Mr. Scott died in one of these about 40 miles that way. And this tent is the one tent made for the Antarctic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It'll withstand winds of about 70, 80 miles an hour.

PHILLIPS: The Scott Tent is named for the British explorer, Robert Falcon Scott. He and four of his men froze to death in a blizzard on this ice shelf in 1912 while attempting to be the first to reach the South Pole, one of many tragedies that lingers in the minds of our instructors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's grab all of our sleep kits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we want to make a big pile of them right here.

PHILLIPS: The main lesson of survival school is always be prepared for the worst. Since we may not always have tents...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's just toss some snow onto this thing.

PHILLIPS: ... our class must learn how to build an igloo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So let's be careful. Let's not brand anyone with a shovel. Oops! We're going to pound on it. We're going to let it settle over time. Then, we're going to dig out. And the interior of that dome is where we're going to sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad snow! Bad, bad snow!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But isn't it good to fueling out an outlet? PHILLIPS: Tell me why you guys are here? I mean why did you come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was an experience to want to travel the world and have some more professional experience as a fireman. You get to see new things, meet new people, and have a lot of fun.

PHILLIPS: Brett Miller is one of several firemen out here with us. It's an odd job in the Antarctic considering the air here is the driest in the world, making firefighting almost impossible.

In Antarctica, the most brutal winds come from the south. To protect the small, mountaineering tent, we built a wall out of ice blocks on the south side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Squeeze it right in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boom, boom, boom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, this is a good-looking wall. It's got a really great curve to it, so it's really strong.

PHILLIPS (on camera): So check it out, Dave. We got our little stoves going over here. This is like our little kitchen to cook our food. And Brett and I are over here building little stools. And then, we're going to take the sled and turn that into a table to eat and then all of us can sit at the family dinner table.

(voice-over): Of all our fellow travelers, Evaldo Torres (ph), known as OV, is perhaps the most out of his element. He's from Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was -- he's been telling me all that time.

PHILLIPS: A cook in McMurdo, OV also studies science and plans to win her over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I'm going to plan in such -- in that noise.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Where's your frostbite, OV?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our first sleep kit is out.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Now, it's time to settle in for our night on the ice.

(on camera): How's that? What are you doing, Dave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm doing my home decorating and a little space.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): During the Antarctic summer, the sun doesn't set. Fortunately, it's dark enough inside our igloo.

(on camera): Hello, here we all are.


PHILLIPS: We're all really becoming quite close.


PHILLIPS: We're dry. We're warm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're pretty good.

PHILLIPS: And look at this, it's midnight outside and look at this. All right, guys, sweet dreams.


PHILLIPS: Good night, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've made a semi objective scale from one to 10. Who would say they're not between a one and three? A show of hands here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute, one and three, one being bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One is the meat locker, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I was minus 10.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So are you in the one in three range?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minus 10? What's the story here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had everything on. I had all the clothes that you guys told me, but I woke up and I felt like in the freezer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I said, man, I'm going to die. My hands were so cold and my face. I am brown for a reason, you know. I belong to hot weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is open space. And this is fresh air and spectacular landforms. It's a very free place. It's a very harsh place. It's a very ominous place.

PHILLIPS: It's peaceful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's peaceful but it's threatening. And it does keep you honest.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): It's day two. We're about to learn of one of Antarctica's greatest dangers, crevasses. Ted and Brennan set up the valet (ph). We're all going down hundreds of feet.

(on camera): One of the most dangerous aspects of hiking through Antarctica are canvases, like this one. Basically, it is the separation of the ice in a glacier. Now, just imagine falling from up top. It would knock you unconscious and you would have no way of signaling for help or even getting out of here.

Now, see where we just hit. This is called basically a bridge that was made from the snow that fell down. But this is very deceiving. It actually is not a solid floor. At any time, this could fall through and we could keep falling and falling and falling deeper into this crevasse. So just imagine how dangerous this could be.

(voice-over): Canvases like this one swallowed many early explorers along with their ponies, dogs and supplies. Crevasse is formed because the glacier is moving, about an inch each day.

There are many types of ice in Antarctica and the moving glacier isn't the worst of it. Next...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never know which way the ship is going to go when you hit the ice.

PHILLIPS: ... what it takes to break the ice and living large on the harsh continent when we return.




PHILLIPS (voice-over): Life at McMurdo Station relies on the constant flow of supplies to its open harbor, a big challenge in a place where the ocean can freeze almost instantly. Pack ice like this kept explorers away from Antarctica for centuries. Wooden ships were crushed by the relentless moving ice.

Today, the U.S. Coast Guard breaks pack ice every season in specialized ships like the Polo Sea. This is breaking the ice, cutting a 56-mile channel for supply ships to bring in fuel and food, two of the most crucial supplies for winter survival.

Commander Steve Wheeler is executive officer of the Polo Sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has got (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And we've got the channel over here and what we want to do is run a parallel track and shave off big chunks of ice between us and the channel. Then, next year when we come down and have to break the channel, it's all first year ice, which is much, much easier to break. This stuff is second year. We're already gotten rid of all the first year ice.

The older ice is, the hardier it is. All the salts and dirt and whatnot leeches out of it and the stuff becomes rock hard.

PHILLIPS (on camera): How thick is this ice, Commander? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About six foot out here. You know every once in a while; you get an eight-foot chunk.

PHILLIPS: So do the whales come up and visit the ship?

LT CMDR. SIDDONEE BOSIN, U.S. COAST GUARD: I think they just more to get into the area closer to McMurdo. And as soon as the ship breaks the ice, they can cruise right on in there as close as they can.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Winding from the open water, the raw sea to McMurdo's harbor, the channel is the town's lifeline. Nothing you see here would be possible without it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is the McMurdo coffee ship? Help me out.

PHILLIPS: As you might imagine, life here has its own unique rhythm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come down the first year for the adventure. The second year for the money and after that, it's because you just don't fit in anywhere else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Note there are no children or small animals here. This could be a clue to its populations and what.

CONGREGATION: The church is foundation is Jesus Christ the Lord. She is his new creation...

REV. JOHN COLLINS, MCMURDO STATION: Antarctica for me is a place where there are winds abroad and the insignificance of man is so vital. You cannot survive here without help from another.

PHILLIPS: The people here can almost forget we're about as far from civilization as they can be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning from Antarctica.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you like here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a really nice place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything different about cooking down here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, lots of things are different.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The products you have to work with, dehydrated, frozen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's breakfast?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's actually pretty good. A lot of it's warm and you can eat as much as you want.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The waffles, definitely, but the rubber eggs, I don't know. It's a harsh continent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, let's keep it rolling with the Blues Man at 104.5 Ice Radio.

PHILLIPS: In Antarctica, it's work hard, play hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People come down here and the first thing they say is when they hear that there's a bowling alley, they go, there's a bowling alley in Antarctica? I mean nobody ever even considered it.

NICK GREENE, AVIATION SUPPORT/PINSETTER: All of us pinsetters have real jobs down here. We just do this part-time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your regular job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aviation technical services. We do everything that lets them fly down here.

BRIAN KLIESEN, HELO TECH/PINSETTER: I work on the Helo Tech and load and unload helicopters. I'm a Helo tech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you were growing up, did you think you'd do this for...

KLIESEN: Pinsetting in Antarctica? No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, let's go to the local bar.

RICHARD OWENS, HEAVY EQUIPMENT OPERATOR: My name is Richard Owens. I'm a heavy equipment operator here. When I heard about this, I was, like, that's what I want to do. This is where I want to go. All my friends and all my secondary family, my support network, is all here. This community, it's a home.

PHILLIPS: Land on the world's biggest iceberg and meet the toughest crowd in Antarctica next on HARSH CONTINENT.




PHILLIPS (voice-over): The bottom of the earth has a special allure for another kind of pioneer, world-renowned scientists are drawn to Antarctica. And as they chip away at its frozen mysteries, they make discoveries of global impact. Among them, Dr. David Ainley, known around here as the Penguin Guy.

DR. DAVID AINLEY, SCIENTIST: So this is very valuable terrain for penguins...

PHILLIPS: He's been studying Adeile penguins for almost 30 years.

AINLEY: A week or so ago, there were about 300,000 penguins here. But it's that time of year when they need to head out to sea.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Right.

AINLEY: And so they've all gone, most of them.

PHILLIPS: They're kind of -- he's sort of checking us out. They both turned around and looked at us. Is it a girl or a boy?

AINLEY: I have no idea.

PHILLIPS: You can't tell what its gender, right?

AINLEY: Right.

PHILLIPS: OK, now, when I last saw a seagull, they didn't look so furry.

AINLEY: Well, they started out; you know, like, an Easter chicken. They're a little bit down.


AINLEY: And then, they grow real feather underneath the down. The down gets pushed out.

PHILLIPS: It smells like penguin poop.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): David's assistant, Greth Baylord (ph) weighs and measure the chicks to see if they're growing fast enough to make it on their own.

PHILLIPS (on camera): This is UA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: UA is 4,100 grams.

PHILLIPS: How's that in pounds?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's like 12 pounds, 13 pounds, something like that.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): With winter just a few weeks away, this tiny chick may not survive. Adeile penguins are a key indicator of the state of the environment.

(on camera): So let's talk about some of the concerns you have about these little guys.

AINLEY: Sea ice is becoming less extensive than it has been -- had been, like the -- due to warmer temperatures. And that doesn't work well for these penguins, just like a songbirds lives through his trees. You cut down the trees and all the songbirds disappear. Well, if you get rid of the ice, then all these penguins are going to disappear.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): But too much ice can also be a problem. If penguins can't get past the ice to find food, they die. North of here, Adeiles are in trouble. An iceberg is blocking the way to their feeding ground and it's not ordinary iceberg.

In 2000, part of the ice shelf the size of Massachusetts broke free, forming the largest iceberg ever seen. This is the biggest remaining part of that iceberg. It's called B-15 A.

(on camera): If you were to chop up this iceberg, everybody in the world would get a 25-lb bag of ice every day for the next 75 years. Now, if you were to melt it, it would cover Texas in eight feet of water and it would supply the United States with all its water needs for the next five years.

DR. DOUG MACAYEAL, SCIENTIST: This is the largest floating object in the world.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Dr. Doug MacAyeal is studying how bergs affect weather patterns around the world.

MACAYEAL: The iceberg modifies the ocean circulation sort of dictates to the ocean and to the atmosphere, well, you know, here is the weather that I want, here's the ocean circulation that I want and I'm the Bohemia that can sort of boss you around. I don't think there will be negative effects with this iceberg. However, we're all concerned about global warming.

PHILLIPS: Several icebergs break off every year. Doug says if the number or size of the icebergs increases then there might be something to worry about. And if the ice sheet were to melt, oceans would rise, threatening cities on every coastline in the world.

Before we go, Doug makes a prediction.

MACAYEAL: A giant crack has run up about 20 kilometers and it stopped right over there, so that means we're going to see this iceberg split in half very soon, maybe as we are standing in it.

MACAYEAL: We have to leave B-15. Good-bye.

PHILLIPS: Only moments later, we're in the air when it happens.

MACAYEAL: This crack is going to mean the death of B-15 A.

PHILLIPS: For all the debate about disappearing ice and global warming, iceberg experts say this coastline today is essentially the same as it was in 1911 when it was mapped by the men known here as the Old Explorers.

Next... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the story, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the adventures and means, the passion that they had in these places.

PHILLIPS: Go into the heart of the Antarctic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably these men were out of contact with the world for two years.





PHILLIPS: This cross honors George Vince, a fallen explorer from the first expedition near McMurdo. Today, life at McMurdo seems both high tech and luxurious compared to the conditions faced by early adventurers. Antarctica has attracted explorers for more than a century. This is the discovery hut, the winter quarters of Commander Robert Falcon Scott and his men on their 1902 expedition in search of the South Pole.

TED DETTMAR, SEARCH AND RESCUE LEADER: This hut, this little point here called Hut Point was the focal point of a life-or-death, do-or-die journey. It's the story of ordinary people and extraordinary circumstances, and it just shows what human beings are capable of putting up with.

PHILLIPS: Scott's 1902 discovery expedition was a failure. But nine years later, he returned to make another attempt at the Pole. And this time, he made it, but he wasn't the first. Roald Amundsen and his team discovered the South Pole in December 1911, just a month before Scott made it there. The site of Amundsen's Norwegian flag flying in the wind signaled failure to Scott and his four companions. Their disappointment, and an unseasonable blizzard, slowed their return to discovery hut. Seventy days after reaching the Pole, and just 11 miles from food, the men slowly froze to death inside their tent.

In the shadow of Antarctica's only active volcano are relics of another legendary explorer. Famous today for the epic endurance expedition, this is the only physical evidence left of Sir Ernest Shackleton's life in Antarctica.

NIGEL WATSON, ANTARCTIC HERITAGE TRUST: We are looking here on north side of the hut.

PHILLIPS: Nigel Watson of the Antarctic Heritage Trust has been camping here for three days, doing the work he loves, restoring Shackleton's 1907 hut.

WATSON: From this building there was a fierce trek to Mount Dervis (ph), which is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the fierce trek to south magnetic pole, and Shackleton's trip to within 97 nautical miles of home. PHILLIPS: Shackleton decided to turn back just short of the South Pole, running out of supplies and exhausted, he knew they'd never make it to the Pole and back safely. As he told his wife, "Better a live donkey than a dead lion."

WATSON: We are now inside Shackleton's hut. This is where 15 men spent two winters. You are looking up here to a lighting system. There was a mix of carbide (ph) in the ceiling, bubbled up through here and ran through the wire reels to light the hut. If we move straight around here we get into the galley, always a popular area, but there are some classic names here -- Heinz, india (ph), relish, deep (ph) powder, Colemans corn flour, as well as some of the original hams from the expedition still hanging on the wall.

The old classic stove, the heart really of any expedition. Inside here we have a layout of beds, which has changed a little from Shackleton's expedition. It was subsequently used by the other expeditions. If you look at the interior of this hut, it has a wonderful ambiance about it. It was a happy expedition. It was successful in its objectives. It didn't lose a man, and it achieved some significant feats in Antarctica.

PHILLIPS: Why do you think this should be persevered?

WATSON: I think the legacy here is one of international interest. It is the last continent on earth where humans (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You know, the buildings in the south may not be architecturally impressive, but it's a story. It's a legacy. It's the adventure. It's the men, the passion that they had in these places that transcends these that creates an amazing atmosphere within them.

PHILLIPS: Shackleton once said, "If I can't be the first to the Pole, then I don't want to go." We aren't so particular and start our Polar journey from Willy Field near McMurdo.

Each 900-mile flight to and from the South Pole station is vital to life there. These planes carry building supplies, food and, most importantly, fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All their equipment on it. They run their heaters, their power plant. And if we didn't bring it in there, they wouldn't get it.

PHILLIPS: How would you describe the South Pole?

KEVIN BROWN, U.S. AIR FORCE: The South Pole, it is basically a mining camp in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow at a high altitude. You kind of got to slow down and get that southern attitude, take your time a little bit. You know, especially the first time that you fall down to your knees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we are here at the bottom of the world, and we want to listen for earthquakes all around the planet.

PHILLIPS: The cold world of South Pole science, "The Harsh Continent" returns.


PHILLIPS: On final approach to the South Pole, our cockpit team breathes oxygen to acclimate to the high altitude. We're landing at 9,300 feet. The Polar Plateau is the highest desert in the world. We finally made it.

Tell me where we are heading to, where are you taking us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to the Prentice (ph) Dome. Here is the ceremonial flag right here.

PHILLIPS: The famous flag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) And geographic South Pole is where the American flag is.

PHILLIPS: Well, here we are 90 degrees south, the absolute bottom of the earth. This is the geographic South Pole. For us, it is the ultimate assignment. Less than 20,000 people have set foot here since it was discovered in 1911. As for the scientists, it is there ultimate field camp. They can listen to the earth without any interruption, and see deeper into space than any other place in the world.

ERIK LEITCH, ASTROPHYSICIST: My name's Erik Leitch and I am down here working on a project to study radiation left over from the creation of the universe itself, it was created in the first few instants of the universe about 14 billion years ago. So this is Daisy. And each one of these is a completely independent radio telescope and there are 13 of them. But in this type of instrument, called an anepherometer (ph), they all work together.

And these are actual images of the micro (ph) sky. These are actual hot and cold spots in this radiation that was emitted 14 billion years ago, and we can still see it today. And these concentrations of matter are what collapsed to form all the objects that are in the universe today.

PHILLIPS: In other words, these are baby pictures of the universe, a universe we know little about.

LEITCH: And what is also tells us is that there is 60 percent of the stuff that is out there is in a form that we don't understand. We don't' know what it is. It is not dark matter. It is not normal matter. It is something that astronomers call dark energy now. And it seems to comprise about 60 percent of what is out there. And we know that primarily from this evidence.

PHILLIPS: The South Pole is also the only place to really study the ozone hole, its role in global warming and the effects on our planet.

ANDY CLARK, NOAA: At the South Pole, the ozone hole forms every year because of how cold it is in the stratosphere. That makes this place very unique. We have a standard radio zone that gives us weather information. And then attached to that is an ozone zone. There it goes. And as this goes up from the surface to about 100,000 feet, we get a profile of ozone. And around the first of October, we get a profile that shows the ozone hole really well.

PHILLIPS: Five miles from the South Pole, a seismologist's dream come true.

RHETT BUTLER, SEISMOLOGIST: Now that the trucks left the area, you can actually hear how quiet it is.

PHILLIPS: Rhett Butler, that's right, Rhett Butler, studies earthquakes all over the world.

RHETT BUTLER, SEISMOLOGIST: Well, we are uncovering our bore hole, which goes down to -- well, as you can see here 286 meters, which is just a little short of a 1,000 feet.

PHILLIPS: Sensors lowered into these holes will allow Rhett to hear earthquakes from anywhere on the planet.

BUTLER: It is going to stay in there essentially forever, in some sense, just like a whale or a dolphin or a porpoise uses sound to illuminate what it is doing, we use earthquakes to illuminate the earth structure, to actually look about what is going on in the interior of the earth.

PHILLIPS: Rhett's work here may ultimately lead to better ways of predicting of planning for earthquakes.

BUTLER: The South Pole is also a rather unique place because in a really great earthquake, where the whole earth starts vibrating, the terms of those vibrations are affected by the earth's rotation. And here at the South Pole, where we are at the rotational axis, those are puritans, they don't get affected by the vibration.

PHILLIPS: Rhett's holes in this ice will inevitably be crushed. It's an Antarctica reality summed up by Shackleton years ago, "What the ice takes, the ice keeps." At the Pole, it will eventually take everything.

JERRY MARTY, STATION MANAGER: This was 90 degrees south, as surveyed on January 1 of 2002. The ice cap is moving approximately 10 meters per year. And if my math is correct, today is February 3rd, you put 31 days in January, so that would be 34 inches forward from here. This is January 1, so we are 34 inches forward, now is the geographical South Pole. Tomorrow will be another inch, and another inch, another inch.

PHILLIPS: As you can see, the ice is quickly swallowing up the old pole markers. Only three are visible above the surface today.

Next, the few, the proud, the unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are we here? Why?

PHILLIPS: Meet the people who call the South Pole home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you some sort of psychotherapist.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I think that is what I need.


PHILLIPS: The scientists may not agree but the biggest thing happening at the South Pole these days is a construction project. Carlton Walker is in charge of building the huge, new science station.

CARLTON WALKER: The thing we're fighting right now too is temperature, if we lose about another 3 degrees, and I've got to take the cranes down. What the whole this is is the Dome was built in '75. In my 12 years here, the mandates have just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger to keep it going. I don't think that station reached the end of its life, functionally, but in order to do the world class science that we know is coming and we know is on the horizon requires a facility like this.

PHILLIPS: One of the great engineering challenges here is snow drift. Over time, snow and ice covers everything at the South Pole. So a hydraulic system is needed to keep the new station above it all for about 50 years.

WALKER: As the snow begins to accumulate, what we will actually do is come in with a system of hydraulic jacks. We will jack the entire station up 12 feet, and that will buy us, theoretically, another 20-25 years on the life of the station.

PHILLIPS: Building at the South Pole is like building on another planet, it is brutal. Today, it's 88 below with the wind chill. A warming hut gives workers a place to thaw out. They have to stop here every 20 minutes.

WALKER: There is very little middle ground in this place. Either you love it or you hate it. If you love it, you keep doing it. If you hate it, you're a one-season wonder.

PHILLIPS: For the people who come here, the challenges aren't merely physical.

BETH WATSON, CONSTRUCTION COORDINATOR: You don't really have to be like hikey, bikey, jumpy, swimming person to do this at all. It is harsh in different ways. It's harsh like prison might be hard.

PHILLIPS: You think it's kind of soft living down here nowadays?

WALKER: The South Pole will always be harsh in a way. I mean, you were in McMurdo. You see the difference between this, McMurdo and here. Will it ever be as cushy as living in the States? No, not a chance. But it has been a continual progression.

It is minus 50 to minus 60 degrees in here constant. PHILLIPS: When the new station is completed in 2006, most people won't even need to go outside, everything they need will be indoors. For now, life here centers on the old station known as the Dome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, we are under the Dome, took (ph) to the galleys.

PHILLIPS: This is the communication center. All transportation at the Pole is managed here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will call you as soon as I have it, over.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to the greenhouse.

PHILLIPS: Also inside the Dome, a tiny oasis.

SALLY AVOTTE, SOUTH POLE CHEF: So lots of herbs. Small fruits on these plants, tomatoes and cukes. We have strawberries down here. Lettuce. In the summer, we probably get one small salad a month. In the winter, they probably get a salad a week, which is really good for morale. And as you can tell too, it is so moist and warm in here. People will come up and sit in read, and write in the journal, play music instrument. It is a great place to forget about where you are for a few minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, the hard thing about here is there is no organic energy at all. You come off the plane and it is just your body. There ain't nothing else alive.

PHILLIPS: Only a few people actually sleep inside the Dome. Most of them have rooms in summer camp, a cold quarter mile away. Staying clean out here is a challenge. To conserve water, the rule is two showers a week for only two minutes each.

WATSON: I have been saying all season this is the continent of other people's hair, because it will stick in your fleece (ph). It's in the bathroom. It's covered everywhere. Lay down and I pull off other people's hair out of the sheets from the laundry.

FLOYD WASHINGTON, MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR: Solar foy (ph) is our outhouse. She's been affectionately named the steaming marshmallow. It is actually a pretty neat design. It will stay pretty warm in there. Warm enough to do what you need to do if you really need to do it.

MARTY: You are in the shell right now, but it is going to happen. We are going to start transitioning from the old station into the new. And we will start moving you in next year. So, I believe everyone said, yes, they were coming back to help us next year. Thank you, again.

PHILLIPS: No one loves the South Pole quite as much as Jerry Marty. He's been running this station for 20 years.

MARTY: There is 220 of us that live here. And the footprint is so small that you are living together. You are sleeping together. You're eating together. We say we are going to the bathroom together almost. It gets real close, right?


MARTY: And there's -- you see everybody, the same people every day. it is almost like going to camp.

PHILLIPS: Life in such extreme conditions attracts a special kind of character.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, tell her about your frostbite today, Mark (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got frostbite today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got frostbite ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, the frost bit the tip of my nose today. It is 80 below out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you some sort of psychotherapist?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I think that is what I need. I spent a winter here. And ever since my winter here, I cannot get the voices out of my head. Mark. Mark. We need a 4-inch offset. Mark. Mark. We need a 9-inch 90. It is like I can't get this place out of my mind, so I am forced to come back.

PHILLIPS: For just the job?


PHILLIPS: It's kind of unique?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's different. It's flat. It's white.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Antarctica, be a carpenter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a lot like Alaska.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Idiot. Why did you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go to Bali be a carpenter. Would make much more sense.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a lot of debates like this, you know, 60 below zero, we're digging trenches. Why? Why do we do this? Time out. Why are we here?

PHILLIPS: Why are you here? Why did you pick it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all about the experience. I like it here too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all about the people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's why we are coming back, both of us.

WATSON: When I was wintering, I sort of really liked the fact that I could have died in four hours. Like if anything goes wrong, we're going to start burning the buildings to stay warm and stuff. And that sounds creepy, but it does make you sort of feel like, okay, now I understand what it is to be alive.

PHILLIPS: Do you ant your daughter to ever do this?

WALKER: Not a chance, not a chance.

WATSON: South Pole people choose to come this far. It's not just a way to make money, because it is not comfortable. You have to want to come to the South Pole.

PHILLIPS: After 100 years of exploration, terra australis incognita is still an unforgiving place that defies description. At the South Pole and McMurdo, people are drawn together, to live life on the edge and to unlock the planet's secrets. As we live Antarctica, it doesn't live us. Maybe we will have to come back.


BROWN: The summer, which runs from October to February, is now over in Antarctica. And many of the 1,500 or so people working at the U.S. bases there are returning home. However, a few do stay and claim to enjoy what is known as the Antarctic night, during the winter, the sun never rises. That's it for this edition for CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us, and we will see you next week.


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