The coldest place on Earth is even colder than scientists thought

Ismael LynchJun 28, 2018

The lowest air temperature on Earth measured with instruments on the ground is minus 89.2 C, or minus 129 F. That was on July 23, 1983 at Vostok Station in Antarctica. This latest study recalibrated satellite data using more up-to-date weather station data and concluded the coldest temperatures were 5 degrees lower than that. Weather stations can log conditions exactly as they are, but satellites can cover much greater areas around the clock.

The new low point is officially minus 98 degrees Celsius (minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that "appears to be about as low as it is possible to reach" according to the worldwide team of researchers who worked on the new study. A new study of satellite data reports that valleys in Antarctica's ice sheets can reach close to minus 100 degrees Celsius (or minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit).

Scientists have discovered that the coldest place on Earth, unsurprisingly located somewhere in Antarctica, is even colder than previous studies suggested.

For the temperature to drop that low, clear skies and dry air need to persist for several days, the researchers say. That's why the scientists made a decision to use satellite data collected during the Antarctic polar night to see whether they might find even lower temperatures. Herrera says that the previous high-minimum temperature record for any 24-hour period was 41.9°C (107.4°F), set at nearby Khassab Airport in Oman on June 27, 2011. After all, water vapor is known to trap heat in the air.

The record breaking temperatures occur occurred in small hollows 2 to 3 meters (6 to 9 feet) deep in the surface of the ice, on the southern side of high ridges on the plateau.

The researchers behind the study state that this new reading at -98 degrees Celsius appears to be the limit of Earth's temperature. Then, at that point, the cooling of the air is so extremely slow that it will not get colder before the weather conditions inevitably change.

"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 nearly nonexistent in order to emit heat from the surface at these temperatures", Scambos said in a statement.

In 2013 and in the new study, researchers calibrated the same satellite measurements of surface temperatures with data collected from weather stations on Antarctica's surface. Scambos's team suspected that it could get even colder at the very highest parts of the ice sheet. The ultra-cold air is denser and so heavier than the humid air around it, notes the release, so it tends to drop into the hollows and get trapped there, this makes the surface of the ice and the air directly above it drop temperature even further. "Seeing any new temperature lows will be more and more unlikely".

When the researchers first announced they had found the coldest temperatures on Earth five years ago, they determined that persistent clear skies and light winds are required for temperatures to dip this low.

In the next year or two, the scientists hope to gather more data by deploying ground-based instruments in the coldest locations.

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