Scientists record coldest temperature ever seen on Earth's surface

The East Antarctic Plateau is a windswept desolate expanse the size off Australia with few bases or instruments. Image credit Ted Scambos National Snow and Ice Data Center  University of Colorado Boulder

A new study found that valleys near the top of Antarctica's ice sheet regularly see record-breaking temperatures that are almost -144 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest recorded temperatures anywhere on the Earth's surface.

Researchers now say that it gets even frostier in the region, which is an important discovery on how low the Earth's surface temperature could drop, the American Geophysical Union reports.

Using the difference between the satellite measurements of the lowest surface snow temperatures at Vostok and three automated stations, and the air temperatures at the same place and time, they inferred that the air temperatures at the very coldest sites (where no stations exist) are probably around minus 94 degrees Celsius (minus 137 degrees Fahrenheit).

With their new work, the scientists found that the coldest of the cold temperatures are actually five degrees C lower than that.

The lowest temperature they observed was minus 93 degrees Celsius (minus 135 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures on certain spots in the frozen ridge were found to have plunge further to negative 148 degrees Fahrenheit, or negative 100 degrees Celsius, which is a new mark for the coldest temperature in the world ever recorded.

Study's lead author and senior research scientist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center of the University of Colorado Boulder, Ted Scambos said in a statement, "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". 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.

Summer at Vostok Station in Antarctica is still plenty cold, but winter atop the East Antarctic Plateau is as cold as it gets on Earth. But he recently found that temperatures could be less than previously measured. 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.

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Such freezing temperatures occur in tiny pockets on the ice, the satellite readings show, up to 3 metres (or 9.8 feet) deep.

Just how cold can it get on Earth? Together - as long as these conditions last - they can cool the snow surface and drive down temperatures, according to the study.

That's 144 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale!

Extremely dry, extremely cold air sinks into the ice pockets and the air gets colder still, until weather conditions change. However, since then, it had been updated to take into account more-up-to-date weather station measurements, giving the team a better idea of what the real temperature at the surface was.

Interestingly, these locations are spread out over hundreds of kilometers but all have the same lowest temperature. This very low-temperature air allows the snow in these hollows to radiate even more heat, allowing for the extraordinarily low ground temperature.

In the next year or two, scientists are expected to pile up more data by protruding ground-based devices in colder places.

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