Antarctica Reaches a New Low

ENVIRONMENT

Using new satellite data from Antarctica’s eastern highlands, scientists have measured the most frigid temperature ever recorded: about -93°Celsius (-136°Fahrenheit). (National Geographic News)

Use our resources to learn about Earth’s extremes, from highest and lowest, to hottest and (new) coldest!

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Before analyzing the new climate data, researchers thought the coldest air in the world might be at the bottom of troughs. Because colder air is denser, it would sink, sliding down the slopes of the Antarctic highlands and pooling at the bottom. Instead, scientists found that most frigid air finds a resting spot over flat areas on the side of hills, where it can continue to cool.
Photograph by Maria Stenzel, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The coldest temperatures in the world have been consistently recorded in the interior of Antarctica, although the Arctic is also pretty chilly. Why do you think Antarctica is so much colder than the Arctic?
    • Antarctica is consistently colder than the Arctic for three main reasons.
  • In the video accompanying the Nat Geo News article, the scientist says that measuring the temperature in Antarctica’s coldest regions requires sophisticated technology. Traditional mercury or alcohol thermometers won’t work. Why not?
    • It’s too cold!
      • Mercury freezes (becomes a solid) at about -39°Celsius (-38°Fahrenheit). It’s useless for measuring temperatures below that—and the new coldest temperature is almost two-and-half times that cold!
      • Alcohol thermometers, which use ethanol (not mercury) as their liquid, can be used to efficiently measure temperatures to about -70°Celsius (-94°Fahrenheit). That is still too warm for Antarctica’s cold mountain slopes.
  • Antarctica’s new low broke a 30-year record for the lowest recorded temperature on Earth. Read through our “Earth’s Extremes” GeoStory, which lists the hottest, coldest, highest, lowest, and most isolated places on the planet. What other “extremes” do you think might be updated? Which ones do you think are unlikely to change?
    • Likely to be updated: Although climate is fairly predictable, new temperature or precipitation records may be set in the near future. Volcanic eruptions may create new islands in the ocean. Explorers are discovering new cave systems all the time—one of these may turn out to be the world’s largest. Scientists may also discover and date a material that is even older than the Jack Hills zircons, the oldest material on Earth.
    • Unlikely to be updated: The world’s highest and lowest elevations, and measurements of the world’s rivers and lakes are probably very stable and unlikely to change. Areas “furthest from another piece of land” and “furthest from the ocean” are also unlikely to change.

2 responses to “Antarctica Reaches a New Low

  1. Pingback: Crusty Old Australia | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Thanks for the frigid news about Antarctica. I am a high school science teacher and have been adapting adventure books in Google Earth. I am currently working on South! by Sir Ernest Shackleton to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the the transcontinental attempt to reach the South Pole. The material is at: http://Sailthebook.net

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