Congressional Delegation Tour South Pole Baseline Observatory

January 12, 2006

On Saturday, January 7, 2006, three Senators, ten Representatives, the Undersecretary of the Air Force, nine congressional aides, and a number of NSF representatives visited the NSF South Pole Station. Included in the visit was a tour of the NOAA/ESRL Atmospheric Baseline Observatory at South Pole where they received a briefing by ESRL/GMD's Andrew Clarke on the measurements conducted at the facility. Most of the Congressmen were members of science-related committees and showed an intense interest in the science of global climate change and ozone depletion and the related measurements being conducted by NOAA at the South Pole.


Carbon dioxide measurements began at the South Pole with air samples taken during the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Today, concentrations of 60 trace gases; broad aspects of solar radiation; surface, total column ozone, and balloon-borne ozone profiles; and aerosols are monitored year around by NOAA through the efforts of two staff living for a year at the South Pole. In addition to the NOAA projects, eleven cooperative research projects with universities/government agencies are operated by the NOAA staff.


Some of the more notable results of the 49 years of measurements at the South Pole observed by the members of Congress were:

  • the steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from fossil fuel combustion rising from 312 ppm in 1957 to 378 ppm today;
  • the documenting of the onset and evolution of the Antarctic Ozone Hole;
  • the decrease of atmospheric ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in response to the Montreal Protocol;
  • and the discovery that the effluents from the 1991 Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the Philippine Islands reached the South Pole reducing direct solar radiation at the surface by 18%, the largest decrease observed at any of the NOAA Baseline Observatories in Barrow, Alaska; Mauna Loa, Hawaii; and American Samoa.

The core members of the delegation were: Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and John Sununu; Representatives Sherwood Boehlert, Roscoe Bartlett, Bob Inglis, Phil Gingery, Bud Cramer, Darlene Hooley, Lincoln Davis, Brad Miller, Jim Costa, Ben Chandler and Dr. Ron Sega, Undersecretary of the Air Force, who is also a NASA Astronaut and a veteran of two space flights.

To view photos of the congressional delegation go to the link below.

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