AGU: Coldest Place On Earth ... Even Colder Than Scientists Thought

Terry Joseph
June 28, 2018

In 1983, a Russian weather station measured a record-low air temperature of -89° C (-128° F) there, and in 2013 satellite data revealed certain pockets could get as cold as -93° C (-135° F).

Meanwhile, meteorologist Jeff Masters at the Weather Underground Category 6 blog is reporting today that "a singularly unenviable heat mark" was set on Tuesday in Quriyat, Oman: a 24-hour low temperature of 42.6 degrees C.

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.

To do so, they analyzed data from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, as well as the NOAA's Polar Operational Environmental Satellites, gathered during the Antarctic winters between 2004 and 2016. Scientists of the Japanese station "Dome Fuji" has fixed temperature of surface air in -91,2 degrees Celsius.

The area in question is the East Antarctic Plateau, a huge, empty expanse the size of Australia that starts right near the South Pole.

For the temperature to drop that low, clear skies and dry air need to persist for several days, the researchers say.

"In this area, we see periods of incredibly dry air, and this allows the heat from the surface of the snow to radiate into space more easily", said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Scientists already knew that the lowest temperature measured on Earth was on frozen ice ridges in eastern Antarctica near the South Pole.

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The land-based meteorological station recorded that Vostok, Antarctica, at present time, holds the world record for the coldest place on the earth.

Such a frigid temperature reading is possible only occur under very specific weather conditions, the study found. Sitting some 3,500 m (11,500 ft) above sea level, the air over the Plateau is extremely still, dry and thin, and while that makes it a flawless spot for future observatories, it also helps it rank among the chilliest places on Earth.

The researchers initially saw a broad region of the plateau more than 3,500 meters (11,000 feet) above sea level where temperatures regularly dropped below minus 90 degrees Celsius (minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit) at the snow surface.

"The record of minus 98 degrees Celsius is about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth's surface". However, since then, it had been updated to take into account more-up-to-date weather station measurements, giving the team a better idea of what the real temperature at the surface was.

That got the study authors wondering: is there a limit to how cold it can get on the plateau?

Interestingly, even though the coldest sites were spread out over hundreds of kilometers, the lowest temperatures were all almost the same. That got them wondering: Is there a limit to how cold it can get on the plateau? In other words, the scientists found minus 98 Celsius seemed to represent the floor or the theoretical minimum for how cold it can get. That comes as no surprise, but what is the lowest temperature that the region has ever reached?

The study has found that dry air is also the key to ultra-cold temperatures.

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