Minus 144 Degrees Celsius: The Coldest Region in Antarctica is Far Colder than Scientists Believed

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Scientists have known for many years that Antarctica’s valleys are the coldest place on Earth, and satellites showed the lowest temperature being minus 93 degrees Celsius.

However, satellite data was analyzed recently and showed that the coldest place in Antarctica is even colder than before, with temperatures dropping to almost minus 100 degrees Celsius in the Antarctic winter’s nights.

The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters. The authors found between the years 2004-2016 almost 100 sites that showed the winter weather in Antarctica had temperatures as low as minus 144 Celsius.

The coldest places were found during July and August in dips and hollows close to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet’s top – at heights of 3,800 – 4,000 meters.

Before satellite data, the lowest temperature measured on Earth was minus 89 Celsius, at the East Antarctic Plateau, at the Vostok Station in July 1983.

In 2013, a new satellite data was published after analyzing 32 years’ worth of data, showing that the lowest temperatures were almost minus 135. Recalibration of satellite data with updated weather station data shows that the coldest temperatures are 5 degrees lower than initially known. All the locations analyzed shared the same characteristics, explains the study’s news release:

“[T]hey occurred in small hollows 2 to 3 meters deep in the surface of the ice, on the southern side of high ridges on the plateau.”

Even far away from each other, the lowest temperatures in the hollows were close to minus 144, so the scientists concluded that 144 is the theoretical minimum of how cold the temperature can get.

These Factors Influenced the Low Temperature

The study also explains that only due to some factors, the temperature can remain this low. The sky must be clear, with calm winds, so that the residual heat can radiate from the surface of the Earth into space. It must also be dry because water vapor retains heat in the atmosphere.

Ted Scambos is the lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, explaining that:

“There’s a limit to how long the conditions persist to allow it to cool to these ultra-low temperatures, and a limit to how much heat you can actually get through the atmosphere, because water vapor has to be almost nonexistent in order to emit heat from the surface at these temperatures.”

However, with climate change, Scambos concludes that because of the increase of the concentration of greenhouse gases the low temperature “might slowly start to rise, as we put more carbon dioxide in the air, and water vapour in the stratosphere starts to increase.”

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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