Scientists record new lowest temperature on Earth in Antarctica

A mosaic of Antarctica. NASA  GSFC

A mosaic of Antarctica. NASA GSFC

However, a weather station can only measure temperature in its vicinity, which is why scientists chose to use satellite observations to find even colder recesses on the East Antarctic Plateau than those recorded at Vostok.

Now, after re-examining weather data for this region, the same researchers have found that temperatures at several sites had actually dipped lower than previously thought, to a record-setting minus 98 degrees Celsius (minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit) on several occasions between 2004 and 2016. This latest study recalibrated satellite data using more up-to-date weather station data and concluded the coldest temperatures were 5 degrees lower than that. Satellite data for 2010 showed the temperature already in -93,2 degrees in the station area.

The new low point is officially minus 98 degrees Celsius (minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that "appears to be about as low as it is possible to reach" according to the global team of researchers who worked on the new study.

Researchers discovered tiny valleys near the top of Antarctica's ice sheet reach temperatures of almost minus 100 degrees Celsius (minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter.

In order for temperatures to drop to such ungodly lows, the weather needs to be within certain fixed conditions: the sky needs to be clear and the air must be bone-dry for days at a time. So, the perfectly clear conditions that are ideal for looking into space will become less frequent-and any scientists hoping to break the record for sensing extreme cold on Earth may be running out of time.

The coldest place on Earth is known to be on the East Antarctic Plateau, located between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji.

The scientists also developed a set of instruments created to survive and operate at the very coldest places through the winter and measure both snow and air temperatures. Now, scientists believe that not only must the skies be clear and a light wind be present, the actual air must also be really dry.

The record breaking temperatures occur occurred in small hollows 2 to 3 meters (6 to 9 feet) deep in the surface of the ice, on the southern side of high ridges on the plateau.

Temperatures of 144 degrees below zero are about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth's surface, according to the researchers. Together - as long as these conditions last - they can cool the snow surface and drive down temperatures, according to the study. By comparing the satellite measurements to data from the nearest weather stations, Scambos and his team figured out that the air temperatures in this region would be a little warmer near human-head height, about minus 94°C.

'There's a limit to how long the conditions persist to allow it to cool to these ultra-low temperatures, and a limit to how much heat you can actually get through the atmosphere, because water vapor has to be nearly nonexistent in order to emit heat from the surface at these temperatures, ' he said.

That got the study authors wondering: is there a limit to how cold it can get on the plateau?

Interestingly, these locations are spread out over hundreds of kilometers but all have the same lowest temperature.

The study has found that dry air is also the key to ultra-cold temperatures.

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