The first airborne measurements of nitric oxide (NO) on the Antarctic plateau have demonstrated that the previously reported elevated levels of this species extend well beyond the immediate vicinity of South Pole. Although the current database is still relatively weak and critical laboratory experiments are still needed, the findings here suggest that the chemical uniqueness of the plateau may be substantially greater than first reported. For example, South Pole ground-based findings have provided new evidence showing that the dominant process driving the release of nitrogen from the snowpack during the spring/summer season (post-depositional loss) is photochemical in nature with evaporative processes playing a lesser role. There is also new evidence suggesting that nitrogen, in the form of nitrate, may undergo multiple recycling within a given photochemical season. Speculation here is that this may be a unique property of the plateau and much related to its having persistent cold temperatures even during summer. These conditions promote the efficient adsorption of molecules like HNO3 (and very likely HO2NO2) onto snow-pack surface ice where we have hypothesized enhanced photochemical processing can occur, leading to the efficient release of NOx to the atmosphere. In addition, to these process-oriented tentative conclusions, the findings from the airborne studies, in conjunction with modeling exercises suggest a new paradigm for the plateau atmosphere. The near-surface atmosphere over this massive region can be viewed as serving as much more than a temporary reservoir or holding tank for imported chemical species. It defines an immense atmospheric chemical reactor which is capable of modifying the chemical characteristics of select atmospheric constituents. This reactor has most likely been in place over geological time, and may have led to the chemical modulation of some trace species now found in ice cores. Reactive nitrogen has played a critical role in both establishing and in maintaining this reactor. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.