Close-up of USC Vice Provost for Research Cornelius (Neal) W. Sullivan at the geographic South Pole, January 1996.; The ice sheet is over 8,000 feet thick at the South Pole. Since the ice shifts along the underlying ground an average of thirty feet per year the marker that identifies the pole's exact location is reestablished annually. Situated near the South Pole Station is a barber pole topped by a chrome ball that acts as a permanent ceremonial marker. Americans have been living here since 1956. The lack of water vapor in the air makes the skies nearly transparent, an ideal setting for astronomical research.