Weatherwatch: Antarctica proves to be even colder than previously thought

Where is the coldest place on Earth? Antarctica; yes, but where exactly?

On 23 July 1983, the thermometer at the Vostok station, high on the East Antarctic plateau on recorded the lowest measured air temperature on Earth: a frigid -89.2C. But, in recent years, satellite data has revealed it can get even colder.

Measurements beamed back from the Modis instrument on board Nasa’s Terra and Aqua satellites have shown that a broad region of the plateau, more than 3500m above sea level, regularly experiences temperatures below -90°C during winter. By matching these measurements with automatic weather station data from Antarctica, scientists have shown that temperatures can plummet to -98°C, and that the coldest locations are found in small hollows in the ice – about two to three metres deep – on the southern side of the high ridges on the plateau.

The findings, published in Geophysical Research Letters, reveal that clear skies and several days of bone-dry air make for the coldest conditions. That’s because super-cold and dry air is denser than the slightly warmer air around it, so it falls into the hollow and becomes trapped, allowing the air above to cool further.


(Dipla Aikaterini)

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