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Coldest Place on Earth Identified by Satellite

Posted by feww on December 10, 2013

Satellites measure super chilled temp of 93.2ºC (-135.8F) in East Antarctica

Researchers using satellite data have recorded the lowest temperatures on Earth at a remote ice plateau in East Antarctica, icing over a previous record set in 1983.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) found temperatures from −92 to −94ºC  (−134 to −137 degrees Fahrenheit) in a 1,000-kilometer stretch on the highest section of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

[Editor’s Note: According to several reports, the satellite sensors recorded a peak temperature of -94.7C (-135.8F) in August 2010.]

  • By comparison, The lowest recorded temperature in the United States measured at −62ºC (−79.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Alaska, in northern Asia at -68ºC (−90.4 degrees Fahrenheit), at the summit of the Greenland Ice Sheet at -75ºC (−103 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The coldest temperature recorded in the U.S. so far this year was -41ºC (minus 42 degrees Fahrenheit) set in Jordan, Montana on December 7, as Arctic weather gripped much of the United States.
  • The coldest temperature detected on Earth’s Moon was -238ºC.
  • CO2 turns into dry ice at −78.5ºC (−109.3ºF) at standard temperature and pressure.

The measurements were made between 2003 and 2013 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on board the Aqua satellite and during the 2013 Southern Hemisphere winter by Landsat 8, a new satellite launched early this year by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, said NSIDC.

“I’ve never been in conditions that cold and I hope I never am,” said lead scientist Ted Scambos. “I am told that every breath is painful and you have to be extremely careful not to freeze part of your throat or lungs when inhaling.”

The previous record of −89.2ºC (−128.6 degrees Fahrenheit) was measured on July 21, 1983 at the Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica.

This image shows the location of record low temperature measurements for Antarctica. The red dots show where the record satellite-measured surface temperatures and the earlier record low air temperature  ccurred. Shades of gray are a compilation of the lowest MODIS-sensor land surface temperature readings made by NASA’s Aqua satellite during 2003-2013, with darker grays representing the coldest areas. Landsat 8 thermal images acquired in July and August of 2013 provided more detail on the coldest areas (purple squares). Elevation of the Antarctic surface is shown in green lines, and a blue lines provide an outline of the Antarctic continent, its islands, and the edge of its floating ice sheet. —Credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center — High Resolution Image

Scambos and his team found record low temperatures in several 5 by 10 kilometer pockets where the topography forms small hollows of a few meters deep. These hollows are present near the ice ridge that runs between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji—the ice dome summits of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Under clear winter skies in these areas, cold air forms near the snow surface. Because the cold air is denser than the air above it, it begins to move downhill. The air collects in the nearby hollows and chills still further, if conditions are favorable.

“The record-breaking conditions seem to happen when a wind pattern or an atmospheric pressure gradient tries to move the air back uphill, pushing against the air that was sliding down,” Scambos said. “This allows the air in the low hollows to remain there longer and cool even further under the clear, extremely dry sky conditions,” Scambos said. “When the cold air lingers in these pockets it reaches ultra-low temperatures.”

“Any gardener knows that clear skies and dry air in spring or winter lead to the coldest temperatures at night,” Scambos said. “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 long for things to really chill down under extended clear sky conditions.”

Scambos suspected they would find one area that got extremely cold. Instead they found a large strip at high altitude where several spots regularly reach record low temperatures. Furthermore, dozens of these extremely cold areas reached about the same minimum temperatures of −92 to −94 degrees Celsius (−134 to −137 degrees Fahrenheit) on most years.

“This is like saying that on the coldest day of the year a whole strip of land from International Falls, Minnesota to Duluth, Minnesota to Great Falls, Montana reached the exact same temperature, and more than once,” Scambos said. “And that’s a little odd.”

Temperature inside Super Typhoon LEKIMA

Measuring at an estimated 150ºK, the temperature of the round patch located next to the eye of Super Typhoon LEKIMA made it the coldest place on or near planet Earth on October 24, 2013.

lekima temp
Super Typhoon LEKIMA. SW-IR satellite image recorded at 14:30UTC on October 24, 2013. Temperature of the patch located to the right of the typhoon’s eye measures about 150ºK (minus 123ºC) making it the coldest place on or near planet Earth. Image sourced from: CIMSS/SSEC/WISC.

The Hottest Place on Earth?

Satellite sensors detected a blazing high of 70.7ºC in the Dasht-e Lut desert in southeastern Iran in 2005.

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