South Pole Jubilee Celebration begins

The Norwegian Polar Institute’s Centenary Expedition South Pole 1911–2011 is participating at the South Pole 14 December, after Jan-Gunnar Winther and Stein P. Aasheim were flown to the South Pole late Monday night. Today it is one hundred years since Roald Amundsen and his men became the first ever to reach the geographical pole.

Børge Ousland, Jens Stoltenberg, Jan-Gunnar Winther and Stein P. Aasheim

Børge Ousland, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Jan-Gunnar Winther and Stein P. Aasheim skiiing the last few kilometres to the South Pole. Photo: Ole Mathismoen / The Office of the Prime Minister

As part of the celebration, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg skied the last few kilometres to the South Pole along with Jan-Gunnar Winther, Stein P. Aasheim and Børge Ousland. Prime Minister Stoltenberg then gave a speech to all who were gathered at the station and around the ceremonial South Pole, and also unveiled a bust of Roald Amundsen cast in ice. Later in the day a reception was held for all the Norwegians at the South Pole, followed by a dinner where Americans were also present.

New funding for polar research

Some welcome news was also passed on: the Government intends to strengthen international polar research by providing an extra 40 million Norwegian crowns over the next three years.

“The research will have a strong focus on climate change and ecosystem in the Southern Ocean,” said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

National celebration in Tromsø

In Norway, the Amundsen Jubilee is being celebrated in Tromsø, where H.R.H. Crown Prince Haakon Magnus is participating. At 7 pm the Crown Prince will speak with the Prime Minister and Winther at the South Pole via direct link-up on a video screen in the town square in Tromsø.

The last two members of the South Pole Centenary expedition, Olympic skier Vegard Ulvang and polar historian Harald Dag Jølle, are currently skiing the last leg of Amundsen’s route. Tuesday evening they were 13.5 kilometres behind Amundsen, and only 41 kilometres away from the Pole. If the weather holds up they are expected to reach the South Pole during the day, Norwegian time. They will then have travelled over 1300 kilometres on skis.

Outreach about climate and polar history

The South Pole Centenary expedition is an educational outreach project under the auspices of the Norwegian Polar Institute and forms part of the Nansen-Amundsen year 2011. The expedition will soon have achieved its goal of retracing Amundsen’s route from the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf, ascending the Axel Heiberg Glacier, and onwards to the South Pole. The objective of the Centenary Expedition is to showcase important aspects of Norwegian polar history, simultaneously directing a spotlight at the climatic and environmental challenges we currently face. Along the way the team has blogged every day, referring frequently to Roald Amundsen’s own account of his expedition.

“Our respect for the feat Roald Amundsen accomplished 100 years ago has steadily grown as we followed in his ski tracks and felt for ourselves the challenges he faced. And he had only come half-way when he reached the Pole,” muses Jan-Gunnar Winther.

The project website has also offered a new quiz every day along with daily fact boxes about Antarctica – themes ranging from climate to polar history. The Science Centre has constructed school assignments on the basis of some of these fact boxes. Public interest in the expedition diary has been astounding – over the past month, 20 000 visitors have visited the website more than 50 000 times and generated nearly 200 000 page views. Most of those who have followed the expedition have been in Norway, but readers in the US, Sweden, Germany and Great Britain have also followed along on the website. Public interest tripled over the past few days, during the final approach. The project has its own Facebook page with well over 1600 followers. The outreach is going well, in other words, and will continue indefatigably even after the actual ski trip is over. Aasheim will write a book about the expedition and TV2 is making a documentary about the project.

“We hope the expedition has contributed to spreading knowledge about history, climate and the environment. Importantly, we have been in close contact with Norwegian schools throughout the trip. Their enthusiasm for the Jubilee and for our expedition has been a great inspiration for us,” says Jan-Gunnar Winther.

Sparebank 1 Nord-Norge and Troms Kraft are the project’s main sponsors.