If you can’t get enough of the cold this winter, we’re tell you where you can go to get really cold.
The records for the coldest temperatures can be categorized by the simple principle of where and how they were discovered. We are not very interested in the upper atmosphere, where it is coldest—it is unlikely that you will take a walk there. So, let’s instead consider the data from near the surface of the Earth.
Satellites helped people find the absolute record—it is minus 93.2 degrees Celsius in East Antarctica. This temperature was recorded in August 2010 at 3900 meters above sea level, specifically between the Argus and Fuji ice domes.
The Argus ice dome. Photo: Ultima Thule
Regarding direct ground observations, the record belongs to the Soviet and later Russian scientific station Vostok, also in East Antarctica. In July 1982, the thermometer here showed minus 89.2 degrees Celsius.
And if we try to find the coldest city, it will be Russia’s Oymyakon in Eastern Siberia. In winter, the temperature here regularly falls below minus 50 degrees Celsius. The absolute record was of February, 1933—minus 67.7 degrees Celsius.
In addition to Antarctica and Siberia, Alaska (with a record of minus 73 °C) and Greenland (minus 69.6 °C) are among the Earth´s coldest regions.
Seems like everything is simple with the records: the closer to the poles and farther from the equator, the colder it is.
In general, this rule works: at noon at the equator, the Sun shines directly from above you, and most of this heat is absorbed by the Earth’s surface. Closer to the poles, the Sun’s rays shine at an increasing angle (and during the polar night, they do not shine at all), which causes them to travel a longer path through the atmosphere—the heat is dissipated, and the Earth warms up less easily.
But then why are the coldest points of the Earth located in Siberia and in the east of Antarctica, and not directly at the North and South Poles?
Several other factors come into play here. First, high albedo, that is, the ability of a surface to reflect light. If the terrain is covered with solid snow and ice (like Antarctica), the surface acts as a mirror, and up to 90% of sunlight is reflected into the atmosphere, rather than absorbed by the ground.
Second, altitude. The coldest points in the east of Antarctica are usually very high—Vostok station, for example, is located at an altitude of 3488 meters.
By the way, the Antarctic station «Vostok» is one of the driest places on Earth, with only 20 millimeters of precipitation per year, in the form of snow. The photo shows the old building of Vostok. Photo: Alexey Ekaikin
Thirdly, relief features increase air dryness. Specifically, the presence of mountains can block the flow of moist air from the oceans—this is the case in Eastern Siberia, where winters are very dry. Dry air is worse at retaining heat than moist air, because it is the moisture that is responsible for retaining heat. In addition, evaporation is faster in dry air.
In the mountains, mountain-valley circulation also has an effect: downwind circulation from the mountains can force dry air to accumulate below—in the valleys and on the plains, reducing the local temperatures.
To summarize: the east of Antarctica, Eastern Siberia and Alaska are the places that can be politely advised as dream vacations to your colleague who is always hot in the office. In addition to proximity to the poles, albedo, altitude and air dryness have a strong influence on the records for the coldest places in the world.
For sports and outdoor recreation, air temperature is not always the most important thing, but it is worth considering when choosing clothing. The temperature forecasts in the app can be conveniently viewed using data from the EC-ENS ensemble model in the EXPERT profile. There, you can immediately see the possible maximum and minimum temperatures, as well as the most probable temperature.
Also, keep in mind that windy weather feels cooler, so it is useful to look at the «Feels Like» values in the LITE profile.
Text: Jason Bright, a journalist, and a traveler
Cover photo: Torsten Dederichs