≡ Menu

And the Coldest Place on Earth Is …

With remote-sensing satellites, scientists have found the coldest places on Earth, just off a ridge in the East Antarctic Plateau. The coldest of the cold temperatures dropped to minus 135.8 F (minus 93.2 C) -- several degrees colder than the previous record. Image Credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center.

With remote-sensing satellites, scientists have found the coldest places on Earth, just off a ridge in the East Antarctic Plateau. The coldest of the cold temperatures dropped to minus 135.8 F (minus 93.2 C) — several degrees colder than the previous record.
Image Credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center.

What is the coldest place on Earth? Scientists say it’s a place so cold that ordinary mercury or alcohol thermometers won’t work there. If you were there, every breath would be painful, your clothing would crackle every time you moved, and if you threw hot water into the air, it would fall to the ground as tiny shards of ice. At this place, the new record of minus 136 F (minus 93.2 C) was set on Aug. 10, 2010. Researchers analyzed data from several satellite instruments and found the coldest place on Earth in the past 32 years is … a high ridge in Antarctica between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the ice sheet known as the East Antarctic Plateau. Temperatures in several hollows were found to dip to the new record.

“We had a suspicion this Antarctic ridge was likely to be extremely cold,” said Ted Scambos, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “With the launch of Landsat 8, we finally had a sensor capable of really investigating this area in more detail.”

This beats out the previous low of minus 128.6 F (minus 89.2 C), set in 1983 at the Russian Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica. The coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth is northeastern Siberia, where temperatures in the towns of Verkhoyansk and Oimekon dropped to a bone-chilling 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 67.8 C) in 1892 and 1933, respectively.

Scambos and his team made the discovery while analyzing the most detailed global surface temperature maps to date, developed with data from remote sensing satellites. The new findings were reported at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

The pursuit to find the coldest place on Earth started when the researchers were studying large snow dunes, sculpted and polished by the wind, on the East Antarctic Plateau. When the scientists looked closer, they noticed cracks in the snow surface between the dunes, possibly created when wintertime temperatures got so low the top snow layer shrunk. This led scientists to wonder what the temperature range was, and prompted them to hunt for the coldest places using data from two types of satellite sensors.

They used data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites. These sensitive instruments can pick up thermal radiation emitted from Earth’s surface, even in areas lacking much heat.

Using these sensors to scan the East Antarctic Plateau, Scambos detected extremely cold temperatures on a 620-mile stretch of the ridge at high elevations between Argus and Fuji, and even colder temperatures lower elevations in pockets off the ridge. Then, with the higher resolution of the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) aboard Landsat 8, the research team pinpointed the record-setting pockets.

The team compared the sites to topographic maps to explore how it gets so cold. Already cold temperatures fall rapidly when the sky clears. If clear skies persist for a few days, the ground chills as it radiates its remaining heat into space. This creates a layer of super-chilled air above the surface of the snow and ice. This layer of air is denser than the relatively warmer air above it, which causes it to slide down the shallow slope of domes on the Antarctic plateau. As it flows into the pockets, it can be trapped, and the cooling continues.

“By causing the air to be stationary for extended periods, while continuing to radiate more heat away into space, you get the absolute lowest temperatures we’re able to find,” Scambos said. “We suspected that we would be looking for one magical site that got extremely cold, but what we found was a large strip of Antarctica at high altitude that regularly reached these record low temperatures.”

Source: NASA

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • RWBHere . December 9, 2013, 6:57 PM

    This might be interesting, because those temperatures are in the range of those found on Mars. Are NASA planning any hardware tests in those colder regions?

  • Aqua4U December 9, 2013, 7:21 PM

    You’re just trying to make us ‘feel’ warmer with these comparisons, right?

  • upcountrywater December 10, 2013, 12:09 AM

    The most sea ice in the satellite era, and what do ya know the lowest temperatures too.
    Say do these two records point to a cooler planet earth?

    • Vedran Vrhovac December 10, 2013, 8:40 AM

      It is wrong do draw conclusion from few measurments made in very short period of time. Maybe the temperature in 1950s in this region of Antarctica was -100°C or +50°C, but it is impossible to know that since there was nobody to measure it. To make decent estimate of climate, at least 30 years of observations are requiered.

      • upcountrywater December 10, 2013, 9:45 AM

        Yea right a location that’s 14,000′ high measuring 50°C.
        Looks like you agree with al gore that the earths core is millions of degrees…

        • Aqua4U December 10, 2013, 12:56 PM

          Ahemm… any estimate of the Earth’s core temperature is based upon THEORY, which as you may know is at best an educated guess. IN FACT, there is a theory the Earth is actually the remnant of an ancient nova! Should this some day be proven true, then yes, the core COULD BE a million or so degrees…. just saying.

          • upcountrywater December 10, 2013, 1:31 PM

            If the temperature anywhere inside the earth was “several million degrees,” we’d be a star.

            The physics and astronomy website Physlink also contests Gore’s absurd claim:

            It is approximately 4000°C at the centre of the Earth. To put this in context:

            1. The centre of the Sun is approximately 15 million°C
            2. The surface of the Sun is 5500°C
            3. Iron melts at 1535°C (when at atmospheric pressure)
            4. Water boils at 100°C (when at atmospheric pressure)
            5. Human skin is comfortable with temperatures up to about 60°C
            Read more at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=529_1258575334#LPereeRm4llH27rc.99

    • Aqua4U December 10, 2013, 12:57 PM

      NO

      • upcountrywater December 10, 2013, 1:57 PM

        Scientists have been studying solar influences on the climate for more than 5,000 years.

        Chinese imperial astronomers kept detailed sunspot records. They noticed that more sunspots meant warmer weather. In 1801, the celebrated astronomer William Herschel (discoverer of the planet Uranus) observed that when there were fewer spots, the price of wheat soared. He surmised that less light and heat from the sun resulted in reduced harvests.

        http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/6/global-warming-fanatics-take-note/#ixzz2n6FrlQjR

        • Aqua4U December 11, 2013, 1:44 PM

          Some other Chinese beliefs about the sun…..

          “The Ten Chinese Suns
          Chinese people believed that there existed ten suns that appeared in turn in the sky during the Chinese ten-day week. Each day the ten suns would travel with their mother, the goddess Xi He, to the Valley of the Light in the East. There, Xi He would wash her children in the lake and put them in the branches of an enormous mulberry tree called fu-sang. From the tree, only one sun would move off into the sky for a journey of one day, to reach the mount Yen-Tzu in the Far West. Tired of this routine, the ten suns decided to appear all together. The combined heat made the life on the Earth unbearable. To prevent the destruction of the Earth, the emperor Yao asked Di Jun, the father of the ten suns, to persuade his children to appear one at a time. They would not listen to him, so Di Jun sent the archer, Yi, armed with a magic bow and ten arrows to frighten the disobedient suns. However, Yi shot nine suns, only the Sun that we see today remained in the sky. Di Jun was so angry for the death of nine of his children that he condemned Yi to live as an ordinary mortal in the earth.”

          http://www.windows2universe.org/mythology/ten_chinese_suns.html

  • logjammin December 10, 2013, 1:23 AM

    Those measurements taken by satellites were surface temperatures. Were the previous record low temps from Siberia air temperatures or surface temps?

  • Tim McDaniel December 10, 2013, 1:27 AM

    Wouldn’t carbon dioxide start to freeze out? Its melting point is “only” -78 C.

    • Richard_Kirk December 10, 2013, 8:55 AM

      No. That would be fun, but ‘fraid not. Water will evaporate at temperatures below 100 C. It will even sublime from solid straight to gas below 0 C if the air is dry enough. -78C is the point where pure carbon dioxide solidifies, but if there is very little carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then more carbon dioxide molecules are likely to evaporate than to condense.

  • dwdeclare December 10, 2013, 4:43 AM

    -93.2
    and with the wind chill it felt like -104…that’s nippy.

  • Leont December 10, 2013, 5:33 AM

    No, I do not believe it! We still have a climate change! You better read the report of IPCC as looking for real facts!

  • Luke Borom December 16, 2013, 12:03 AM

    I think many people associate Global warming with weather temperatures in their area because most people can only think about right this second. The average American has an attention span of a few minutes. So why would you expect someone to understand that global warming means globally. You take all of the worlds’ temperatures and average them together over time. As the temp rises it melts freshwater ice on antarctica and greenland. This screws with the halocline because it brings down the salinity of the ocean which then causes the ocean conveyors like the gulf stream to shut down. This means extreme changes in climate and therefore more swings in weather. When I was a kid in central Texas there was frost by Halloween and we had snow every year. For a few years it was so cold in winter that the ponds would freeze enough to ice skate on. Now it is 86 one day and down to 22 in a 24 hour period. Then back to 70. This is because things are getting more and more screwed up. It doesnt matter if you think humans cause this or not. We need to do something to stop it or it will be really bad.

hide