National Geographic News
The snow surface near Plateau Station in East Antarctica

A new look at NASA satellite data revealed that Earth set a new record for coldest temperature recorded in East Antarctica.

Photograph by Atsuhiro Muto, National Snow an Ice Data Center/AP    

Marcus Woo

for National Geographic

Published December 10, 2013

If you think this winter is cold, be glad you're not in Antarctica.

Using new satellite data, scientists have measured the most frigid temperature ever recorded on the continent's eastern highlands: about -136°F (-93°C)—colder than dry ice.

The temperature breaks the 30-year-old record of about -128.6°F (-89.2°C), measured by the Vostok weather station in a nearby location. (Related: "South Pole Expeditions Then and Now: How Does Their Food and Gear Compare?")

Although they announced the new record this week, the temperature record was set on August 10, 2010.

Researchers used data spanning 31 years from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (VHRR) instruments on several U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites, as well as instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites and on the Landsat 8 satellite.

The instruments measured the heat radiated from Antarctica's surface. (Related: "Antarctic's Mountains Revealed by Sharpest Map Yet.")

"Not an Outlier Event"

Antarctic regions are always cold, averaging a nippy -127°F (-83°C) and fluctuating only a few degrees up and down. Even the new lowest temperature is par for the course on the continent, where thermometers plunge to similarly low levels a couple of times every winter.

The coldest days are usually the clear, cloudless ones because clouds tend to act as an insulating blanket. But "they happen on many [kinds of] days," said Garrett Campbell of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. "It's not an outlier event."

Campbell presented the findings Tuesday at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Researchers thought that because colder air is denser, it would sink, sliding down the slopes of the Antarctic highlands and pooling at the bottom.

Instead, they found that most frigid air finds a resting spot over flat areas on the side of hills, where it can continue to cool.

One possible explanation, Campbell said, is that high-pressure air at the bottom pushes uphill, preventing the pocket of cold air from sinking farther. But more research needs to be done to confirm that theory.

One caveat to the new record is that satellites determine the temperature at the Earth's surface, whereas the Vostok station had measured the temperature two meters (6.5 feet) above the surface, where it tends to be slightly warmer.

18 comments
Rhett Vorster
Rhett Vorster

When I read Revelation 3:15, Complete Jewish Bible, “I know what you are doing: you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other!" - I thought of where on earth we could find physical examples, and this came up (Furnace Creek Ranch in California's Death Valley tops out at 134 degrees Fahrenheit)!

Ayan Tumusov
Ayan Tumusov

Today, 3 february 2014, we have -51 C of cold (Yakutsk). People still living, working, cars still running, but children are sitting home not gone to school. Be happy people!

Terry Tull
Terry Tull

At first the headline sounded significant until it states that the data only goes back 31 years. Also the lowest temperature they recorded at nearly -136 F (-93 C) is only 7.5 F (3.8 C) colder than the average winter low temperature of -128.6 F (-89.2 C). It's an interesting article, but I was hoping to find out if there was some indication as to some sort of a trend to these cold temperatures. Looks like we need more data over a longer timeline to make that judgement.  

Kevin Aiton
Kevin Aiton

amazing work , the scientists involved with releasing this stunning information , must be thrilled to find a  FLAME WAR about the use of thermal graduating units ! I think The story  is far more significant ! Thank's for the News that the world we live in is still alive and well !

Rafał Tandek
Rafał Tandek

In these conditions Metallica played a concert?:)

Steve Randen
Steve Randen

Is there any way we can dispense with the imperial system and just use Metric, since that is what the entire world uses? "-136F" means nothing to anyone but Americans.

Jay Wells
Jay Wells

That is pretty much what I was thinking DC. The global warming fanatics try to twist EVERYTHING into evidence of global warming, so no doubt some of them will do it in this case also.

D C
D C

This is obviously caused by GLOBAL WARMING!  The sky is falling!

Sarah Norman
Sarah Norman

@Steve Randen well a lot of Americans read this site...we're one of the leading country in computer usage, give us a break

David Hendriks
David Hendriks

@Jay Wells It could also be said that global cooling fanatics try to twist everything into evidence for their argument as well. This doesn't prove any global trend! Just like how based on recent record heat waves you can't necessarily make solid claims of global warming, you can't take this to prove global cooling either... it's anecdotal

Steve Randen
Steve Randen

@Sarah Norman @Steve Randen Where do you get that stat from? Most people in the world use computers now, especially in the industrialised nations, of which there are far more than just the US. Anyway, that is irrelevant, since the Metric system is used by all nations except the US, and even in the US, Metric is used by scientists, doctors and the military. The US is the last stubborn holdout and it is inevitable that it will switch, so might as well get going now. Using the imperial system in this day and age is fruitless, and annoying to everyone else. It makes no sense and no one uses it. Get with the times.

Lauren Perry
Lauren Perry

UM, they put Celcius next to the Fahrenheit.  Learn how to read Steve.  Also if you are too stupid to look up the converter on the internet which clearly you claim you are so good at using in other countries, then you have another problem.  On another note why is it so bad to be different?  If the Americans wrote this article and you aren't okay with that, find someone from your country to do this study and post about it.  America's way of thinking is the newer way, so you get with the times.

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