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Finding the coldest place on Earth

By , 5 July 2018

Image of buildings in a flat icy landscape.

Vostok base reached −89.2 °C, but there are much colder places in the world. Image: Todd Sowers LDEO, Columbia University, Palisades, New York.

It’s the middle of winter in our part of the world. And if you live in southern parts of Australia, you might think it’s a bit chilly. But there are places on Earth that are much colder. New research has found places in Antarctica colder than we have ever measured before!

A home freezer typically gets down to –15 ° Celsius, but winter temperatures in Antarctica can be much lower. At the South Pole, average winter temperatures are around –59 ° C. And colder still, is the Russian research station Vostok. In 1983, the weather station there measured −89.2 °C, the coldest weather ever reliably recorded on Earth.

Vostok might be the coldest place with a weather station, but Antarctica is very big with only a few weather stations. To search the rest of Antarctica, an international team of scientists turned spaceward. Two satellites named Aqua and Terra have been observing Earth for more than a decade, recording weather and land use patterns. They also measure the surface temperature of icy regions of the world.

Looking through satellite data, the scientists found readings of extremely cold ground temperatures, some as low as −98 °C. In Antarctica, the ground is often colder than the air, but the team estimated that air temperatures would still be around −94 °C, which would be a new record!

These low temperatures don’t mean that Antarctica is getting colder. The warmest ever temperature in Antarctica was measured only a few years ago at Esperanza Base, on the Antarctic Peninsula. The record 17.5 °C heatwave might seem cold to some people, but for Antarctic residents, it’s definitely T-shirt weather!

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