Lowest Air Temperature Ever Recorded - As summer temperatures begin to rise, scientists have published the coldest temperatures ever recorded on Earth. For a long time, Antarctica's dark winter temperatures reached low levels to match the rest of the planet.
What temperature did you measure? An incredible negative 144 degrees Fahrenheit (-97.8 degrees Celsius). At that temperature, a few breaths of air will cause bleeding in your lungs and quickly lead to death.
Lowest Air Temperature Ever Recorded
Temperatures were recorded using satellite measurements in the depths of winter in Antarctica. These findings, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, are close to the theoretical coldest temperatures Earth can reach.
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To find the coldest place on Earth, the research team looked for the highest point in the dome-shaped ice in Antarctica. At the highest point, 13,300 feet, there are small divots in the snow that protect the area from the wind and allow cold air to enter small depressions. In these places, scientists measured a record-breaking -144 degrees Fahrenheit. This beat the record of -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit set in 1983 at Russia's Vostok station near the South Pole.
Conditions should be close to ideal for the temperature to drop. It must be in the dead of winter when the sun does not shine. In addition, the sky should be completely clear, with little to no wind and very low humidity in the air. Water vapor in the atmosphere acts to trap heat and keeps the heat close to the earth's surface.
Just as a side note, if you've ever been somewhere that's very humid and the temperature isn't too cold at night, you've experienced this phenomenon. A quick search of the US humidity map shows that one of the most humid cities in the US right now is Bar Harbor, Maine, with 100 percent humidity. For today, the high is 61 and the low is just two degrees at 59 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because it maintains 100 percent humidity at high temperatures and keeps Bar Harbor warm at night. Compare this to one of the driest places in America today, Moab, Utah, which has 5 percent humidity. The highest temperature is 102 and the lowest is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a 32 degree swing from day to night because there is no water vapor in the air to trap heat.
Along with these ideal conditions, the research team found that the coldest temperatures ever recorded on Earth were in small pockets in the high reaches of Antarctica.
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"This is a place where the Earth is so close to its limit, it's like another planet," said lead researcher Ted Scambos of the National Ice and Snow Data Center at National Geographic in Colorado. In this photo near the East Antarctic Plateau station. Although there are subtle domes, hills and craters, most of Antarctica looks flat.— - Credit: Atsuhiro Muto
Scientists recently recorded the coldest temperatures on Earth in the barren and remote ice of East Antarctica, breaking the record set in 1983 and revealing new mysteries about the ice-covered continent. Lead scientist Ted Scambos and his team found temperatures of -92 to -94 degrees Celsius (-134 to -137 degrees Fahrenheit) along the 1,000 kilometer East Antarctic Ice Break. The measurements were made between 2003 and 2013 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on NASA's Aqua satellite, and in the 2013 Southern Hemisphere winter by Landsat 8, a new satellite launched earlier this year by NASA and of the US Geological Survey.
Scambos is a member of the Landsat Science Team, which provides science support on mission-critical issues for Earth-observing Landsat satellites. "I've never been in such cold conditions and I hope I never will," Scambos said. "I was told that every breath is painful and you have to be careful not to freeze part of your throat or lungs when you breathe." The recorded temperature is several degrees cooler than the previous record of -89.2 degrees Celsius (-128.6 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded on July 21, 1983 at the Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica. At -62 degrees Celsius (-79.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Alaska, -68 degrees Celsius (-90.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in northern Asia, or -62 degrees Celsius (-79.6 degrees Fahrenheit) at the highest point, the lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States. They are cold. Greenland ice sheet at -75 degrees Celsius (-103 degrees Fahrenheit). According to Scambos, the recorded temperature was found in several 5 by 10 km (3 by 6 mi) pockets in the landscape, small craters a few meters (2 to 4 meters or 6 to 13 feet) deep. These craters are located on the ice ridge that runs between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji - the tip of the ice dome of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Antarctic bases are placed in each location and generally do not get caught in the Antarctic winter.
This image shows the location of the lowest temperature record for Antarctica. The red dots show surface temperatures measured by the satellite and the location of previous low temperatures. Shades of gray represent the lowest MODIS-sensor land surface temperature readings from 2003-2013 by NASA's Aqua satellite, and dark gray represents the coldest areas. In the year Landsat 8 thermal images from July and August 2013 provide more detail in the coldest areas (purple squares). Antarctic surface elevation is shown in green lines, and blue lines outline the Antarctic continent, islands and ice floes.-- Credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center.
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In these areas, under clear winter skies, cold air forms near the surface of the snow. Cold air is denser than the air above, so it begins to descend. The air collects in nearby pits and cools still if the conditions are right. "The record-breaking conditions appear to be caused by the wind pattern, or the atmospheric pressure gradient, which drives the wind drift as it tries to move the air aloft," Scambos said. "This allows the air in the lower troughs to stay longer and cooler in clear and very dry sky conditions," Scambos said. "When cold air stays in these pockets, it reaches very low temperatures."
"Any gardener knows that clear skies and dry air in spring or winter lead to very cold temperatures at night," says Scambos. The thing is, here in the United States and most of Canada, we don't get a night that lasts three or four or six months for things to cool down under clear skies.
Scambos and his team observed the low temperatures while conducting a related study of unusual cracks in the East Antarctic ice sheet, believed to be several centuries old. "The cracks can be thermal cracks—the temperature drops so much in the winter that the surface of the ice actually shrinks," Scambos said. It makes us wonder what the temperature is. So, using data from three satellite sensors, we began hunting for the coldest spots. More than 30 years of data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on NOAA's Polar Orbiting Satellite (POES) series has given the Scambos a good look at what low temperatures are like in Antarctica. "Landsat 8 is a new sensor, but preliminary work shows the ability to map cold pockets in detail," said Scambos. "This shows how even small hummocks can survive in cold air." The scambos suspected they were finding a very cold environment. Instead, they found a large patch at high altitudes where many areas regularly reached low temperatures. In addition, dozens of these frigid areas reach temperatures of -92 to -94 degrees Celsius (-134 to -137 degrees Fahrenheit) in most years. "It was the coldest day of the year from International Falls, Minnesota to Duluth, Minnesota to Great Falls, Montana, the entire land reached the same temperature and more than once," Scambos said. "And that's pretty weird."
Scientists suspect that the atmospheric layer above the surface of the ice reaches a certain low temperature and prevents the ice from freezing. "There seems to be a physical limit to how much cooling can occur at this altitude and how much heat can escape," Scambos said. Although it is a very cold place, the surface of Antarctica emits heat or energy into space, especially if the atmosphere is dry and clear of clouds. "The amount of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, traces of water vapor and other gases in the air can cause more or less uniformity.
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