South Pole Signage

I’ve always been fascinated by routine, mundane activities and infrastructure in extraordinary contexts.

It’s why I’ve gleefully written about the everyday realities of life and how they play out in Antarctica – topics such as laundry, wastewater infrastructure, credit card fraud, voting, automated teller machines, mud, and doors.

In the seven months I’ve been at the South Pole so far, I’ve kept up my fascination with the day-to-day tasks involved in keeping the station going. Yes, we’re at the actual, real-life South Pole. Yes, it’s -100°F outside. Yes, we’re isolated for 8 months straight.

Yes, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an extraordinary, novel set of circumstances.

But also – We live here! And living in a place means that it will develop a certain rhythm. A certain set of norms, customs, fault lines, battle scars, inside jokes, remembrances. Day-to-day reminders of the folks who have left their mark on this place over the years.

We still fight over slammed doors. We still do routine custodial tasks. We still have fire alarms, plumbing leaks, coffee spills, movie nights. Spreadsheets. Labeling schemes. Workflows and processes, official and unofficial.

We have signs because Bad Things happened once, and now they’re immortalized forever with homegrown, earnest warnings. We have official OSHA signage; we have earnest hand-scrawled pleas.

Signs that make you scratch your head. Signs that could exist in a suburban office park anywhere on earth. Signs that can only exist at the South Pole.

In my opinion, the signage here at the South Pole provides a fascinating glimpse into our day-to-day routines, without indulging in voyeuristic overreach or violating anyone’s privacy. People live here, and we deserve a quiet life.

But – this place is also fascinating, and I think signage is a fun, respectful, and quirky way to explore it.

Table of contents

  1. Warehousing, Operations, Industrial Safety
  2. Fire Safety
  3. Food and Drink
  4. Electrical
  5. Don’t Slam the Door
  6. Turn off the Lights
  7. Waste Management
  8. Utilities
  9. Workshops
  10. Laundry
  11. Uniquely South Pole
  12. Miscellaneous

I hope you enjoy viewing these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Warehousing, Operations, Industrial Safety

Signage 04 Obligatory forklift safety sign in the Logistics Arch.

Signage 03 Signage on the decks down in the arches.

Signage 05 More signage on the decks down in the arches.

Signage 74 Door to one of our elevated station storage decks, which contains a hoist for bringing up supplies from ground level.

Signage 44 Out in our Cryo building, where we do lots of work with pressurized gases.

Signage 54 In the MAPO machine shop.

Signage 56 Fun fact: Floors are *especially* slippery when you walk in from outside, and the rubber on the bottom of your boots is frozen solid.

Signage 72 Inventory management is a major consideration here, given how long the supply chain can be. I've found myself without a few nice-to-have IT parts, and it's tough to realize that the next potential supply flight is still several months away.

Signage 06 The back storage door behind our power plant. Inside here is a row of generators powered by CAT 3512B engines, keeping the lights on and the station warm.

Signage 66 In a supply closet.

Signage 43 Found in the cargo building. Origins unknown. Truly baffling.

Fire Safety

Signage 07 Fire safety is taken seriously here, given the catastrophic impact of a fire in such a remote location.

Signage 08 Muster: So everyone is accounted for after an emergency, and so we can coordinate emergency response tasks.

Signage 20 Fire suppression safety signage.

Signage 21 Emergency exit signage.

Signage 22 On the door to the RF building, far from station.

Signage 23 Again, fire safety is a big deal around here.

Signage 35 Labeled shelving in our Do Not Freeze (DNF) storage warehouse.

Signage 45 Another muster sign, from the Cryo building.

Signage 84 Conduit marking, above the fire alarm control panel in B Pod.

Food and Drink

Signage 09 Emphatic plea for coffee drinkers, to avoid overflows.

Signage 10 I'm assuming someone poured chunky soup down here at one point, necessitating a sign.

Signage 75 Emphatic plea in our galley, from someone tired of scraping gunk off of the panini press.

Signage 70 Self-explanatory. Luckily we don't have any white carpet to stain.

Signage 50 By our popcorn machine. We go through a LOT of popcorn -- it comes in 50lb bags.

Signage 90 Spepper?


Signage 14 Some lights are on emergency lighting panels, for continuity in the event of a power outage.

Signage 25 The majority of South Pole runs on standard 480/277 volt, 60 hertz, 3-phase AC power, with step-down transformers to 208/120 volt as needed for plug loads. But we do step up to higher voltages in a few places, for sending power to very distant outbuildings. This is some of our 4160 volt switchgear.

Signage 24 Arc flash personal protective equipment (PPE) signage on our 480/277 volt panels.

Signage 28 Meticulous circuit labeling.

Signage 30 Critical services throughout the station (datacenter, science projects, etc) are backed by large UPS units. Keep them cool!

Signage 77 Warning on some of our 4160 volt switchgear.

Don’t Slam the Door

Signage 16 The endless struggle: keeping berthing noise down in a place with 24x7 operations.

Signage 37 Door to one of our berthing wings.

Signage 17 Please.

Signage 38 HEY

Turn off the Lights

Signage 57 Direct and to the point.

Signage 61 Polite, but not excessively so.

Signage 58 Exceedingly polite.

Waste Management

Signage 33 I do not know who wrote this, but I hope they stumble upon this blog and smile that their handiwork is still alive and well at the South Pole.

Signage 48 Another earnest plea for recycling.

Signage 01 Earnest plea, just inside the door to the beer can, where we temporarily store our trash.

Signage 34 Nobody likes cleaning up sticky beer-soaked trash bags.


Signage 02 Insulated pipe, carrying AN-8 fuel up the beer can and into the elevated station, where we use it in our supplemental boilers for station heating.

Signage 26 Day tanks for storing potable water in elevated station wing B1, our emergency "lifeboat".

Signage 27 "GHR" stands for Glycol Heating Return.

Signage 60 A good example of "Warnings that were Clearly the Result of a Mishap."

Signage 82 South Pole Station is not immune to routine plumbing issues. In this particular case, we had to auger out a clogged drain line serving a portion of the elevated station.

Signage 76 Some exasperated carpenter was sick of constantly fixing the fan mounts.

Signage 63 Found in the elevated station. For context: On Sept 24, 2004, the elevated station still had over 3 years of major construction to go.

Signage 40 Deep underground, in one of the ice tunnels used for utilities. Yes -- the sign is screwed directly into an ice wall.


Signage 67 I love this one, because someone took the time to create this in what looks to be Word Art, print it out, and tape it on here.

Signage 59 As in every workshop, horizontal space for putting Things on is at a premium.

Signage 79 South Pole Station is home to several earnest, unofficial workflows for dealing with dead / charging / charged batteries.

Signage 89 Another earnest, homegrown organization scheme for workshop consumables.

Signage 68 There are a bunch of "misc tape" boxes and drawers all over station. Stuff just piles up in them.


Signage 46 Linen storage in our laundry room.

Signage 47 Use at your own risk!

Signage 62 Another one from our laundry room.

Signage 65 There are rags and cleaning supplies stocked all over station, and we take turns cleaning common areas.

Signage 78 Warning sign, to avoid cross-contaminating rags.

Signage 88 Station laundry (rags, aprons, mop heads, etc) is centrally-collected and washed as needed.

Uniquely South Pole

Signage 53 Formal sign just inside the door to the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory (MAPO).

Signage 19 In an outbuilding far from station.

Signage 39 ?? idk, ask the scientists.

Signage 51 The smell of AN-8 soaks into everything, and it lingers for days.

Signage 71 This is "Altie Meadows", a utility distribution point for several of our smaller outbuildings in the backyard.

Signage 73 A speaker in the Station Operations Center (SOC), also known as "Comms". Each is tuned to a different frequency. We have an assortment of radio equipment, for communicating with inbound/outbound flights, as well as for communicating with other locations across Antarctica.

Signage 52 ??? Another one for the scientists.


Signage 15 The elevated station is divided into the A Pod and the B Pod, and we get fancy brushed metal signs to ensure we don't get lost (?).

Signage 87 Mop hygiene.

Signage 18 A communication closet, containing IT equipment.

Signage 85 Fun to walk around and see signs that were put up 14 years ago. Thank you Materials '09!

Signage 81 A temporary sign marking a work area.

Signage 49 We hate scraping duct tape residue off of walls here, just like back home.

Signage 11 Medical supply cache in a storage room.

Signage 12 Are we at the South Pole or a suburban office park?

Signage 13 Yes, we're still subject to building codes!

Signage 86 Different chemicals for different surfaces!

Signage 31 My favorite drawer on station.

Signage 32 The label did NOT lie about the contents.

Signage 80 This is out in the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO).

Signage 69 We have a fairly well-equipped weight room, and a lot of stuff is fabricated onsite.

Signage 29 CONCERN. This is a "flams" cabinet, an enclosed storage area for flammable items.

Signage 83 A lot of deep cleaning and equipment maintenance is scheduled for winter, when there are fewer people on station and fewer demands for equipment.

Signage 36 Found affixed to a computer monitor. As a member of station IT staff, I strongly agree with this message.

Signage 41 The second "O" is actually a "0" (zero), and it bothers me every time I see it. I might replace this one.

Signage 55 Label was probably placed here after someone fought a valiant battle to remove these without instructions.

Signage 64 SOAP

Signage 42 It was so cold

And there you have it! A brief, haphazard tour of South Pole Station, told exclusively through station signage.

I hope others found this as interesting as I did.

Until next time!