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Earth

Coldest Place On Earth

Updated March 25, 2019
The coldest place on Earth is a region in inner Antarctica. Here, a satellite has recorded a temperature of -98.6 °C (-145.5 °F).
Between 2004 and 2016, the temperatures on the Antarctic highlands were measured by satellite. In 2018, scientists revealed the results. In July 2004, the satellite had registered the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth's surface - an icy -98.6 °C (-145.5 °F).[1] Without face masks, humans can't inhale air this cold for more than a few breaths before it would cause our lungs to hemmorhage.[2]

During the study period, similar temperatures were recorded at several regions, and scientists think this is about as cold as it can get on Earth[2]. To be more exact, temperatures between -98 °C (-144.4 °F) and -98.6 °C (-145.5 °F) were recorded at about 100 sites.[1] These sites were situated on the East Antarctic highlands, at elevations above 3,800 m (12,467 ft), but in topographic depressions into were air cooled by the glacial ice sinks and pools.[1]
Map over Antarctica
Map over central East Antarctica - the coldest area on Earth. The very coldest place is highlighted. The color fields indicate the number of occurances below -90 °C (-130 °F). The dots/circles indicate occurances below -98 °C (-144.4 °F).[1] "AWS" are automatic weather stations.


When these low temperatures occurred, all conditions for extremely cold weather were met. It was in the midst of the sunless winter, the polar wortex (the everlasting low-pressure) over Antarctica was extra strong, the air had been still for a few days, and no clouds and hardly any humidity existed that could trap the tiny amount of heat radiating from the ground.[2]

The odds for a new lowest temperature record in the future are small, as the increase in water vapor and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is expected to make Antarctica warmer.[2]

The coldest place on Earth is near the southern pole of inaccessibility[1] - the point on Antarctica most distant from the continent's coasts.
On the southern pole of inaccessibility is an abanonded Soviet research station, long buried by the snow. The only thing still sticking up is a statue of Lenin.


Also located in East Antarctica is the active Russian research station Vostok. Here, the previous record for the coldest air temperature was measured in 1983 - a frigid -89.2 °C (-128.6 °F).[1] When the Russian scientists went out to check the weather station, they wore face masks that warmed the air before they breathed it in.[2]

The cold record made Vostok famous as 'the coldest place on Earth'. But the station is some distance away from the 'summit' of East Antarctica, where the Antarctic ice sheet is at its highest and probably coldest. For this reason, scientists started their satellite-assisted search in 2004, and sure enough, even lower temperatures were found in shallow basins on the highlands.[2]

However, the satellite data showed the temperature at the surface, while the temperature record from Vostok was measured at a height of 2 m (6 ft 7 in).[1] And since the air is cooled by the ice, the surface temperature is usually lower than the near-surface temperature. So how can one compare the two records? Well, by comparing surface snow temperatures with near-surface air temperatures at nearby automatic weather stations, the scientists could calculate that -98 °C (-144.4 °F) at the surface equals -94±4 °C (-137.2±39 °F) at a height of 2 m (6 ft 7 in).[1] Consequently, the temperature record from Vostok has been beaten. However, Vostok's -89.2 °C (-128.6 °F) is still the lowest temperature ever measured directly from the ground, instead of indirectly from space.
Vostok is the coldest research station in the world. It was founded in 1957 and has been manned almost continuously since then.


The coldest inhabited place on Earth, not counting research stations in Antarctica, is the village of Oymyakon in Siberia, Russia. Here, a bone-chilling -67.7 °C (-89.9 °F) was recorded in 1933.[3] This is also the lowest temperature ever recorded outside Antarctica.[3] The exact same temperature has been recorded in the town of Verkhoyansk, also in Siberia, but that measurement is controversial.[3]

Oymyakon is a remote village with five hundred something inhabitants.[4] The village has no running water since the pipes would freeze anyhow. That means no hot showers - and outhouses.[4] The children can at least look forward to the school closing when the temperature dips below -55 °C (-67 °F).[4]
The photographer Maarten Takens in Oymyakon, a sunny day at -55 °C (-67 °F).


The fact that it can get so cold in Oymyakon is mainly due to the fact that the village lies in a valley where cold air pools, in the middle of Siberia, far from the nearest ocean that could moderate the extreme temperatures.[4] And extreme it is in Oymyakon. In the summer, the temperature has reached 34.6 °C (-94.3 °F).[5]

The town square in Oymyakon has a small monument of a measurement of -71.2 °C (-96.1 °F), said to have been made in the 20s.[4] This has, however, not been recognized as an official record.
A Yakutian horse in Oymyakon. Thanks to its compact body and thick winter coat, Yakutian horses can stay outdoors all year round, even in temperatures below -70 °C (-94 °F).[6]
References
[1]
Scambos, T.A., Campbell, G.G., Pope, A., Haran, T., Muto, A., Lazzara, M., Reijmer, C.H. and van den Broeke, M.R. "Ultralow Surface Temperatures in East Antarctica From Satellite Thermal Infrared Mapping: The Coldest Places on Earth". Geophysical Research Letters, 45(12), 6124-6133, doi:10.1029/2018GL078133. Published June 25, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
[2]
"Coldest Place on Earth Found—Here's How". National Geographics. Published June 27, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
[3]
"Lowest temperature - inhabited". Guinness World Record. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
[4]
"Visiting the coldest town in the world - Chilling Out | 60 Minutes Australia". YouTube. Published June 20, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
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