A deserted and remote ice plateau in East Antarctica is said to be the coldest place on Earth after the lowest temperature ever recorded on the planet was recently measured there, according to researchers who said that the discovery will help uncover new puzzles about the icy continent.
The new record temperature of minus 136 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 93.2 degrees Celsius) was set on Aug. 10, 2010. Researchers analyzed 32 years' worth of data from remote-sensing satellites, including the new Landsat 8, a joint project of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, and found temperatures plummeted to record lows near a high ridge between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the ice sheet known as the East Antarctic Plateau.
"We had a suspicion this Antarctic ridge was likely to be extremely cold, and colder than Vostok because it's higher up the hill," Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement.
“I’ve never been in conditions that cold and I hope I never am. I am told that every breath is painful and you have to be extremely careful not to freeze part of your throat or lungs when inhaling.”
The newly recorded temperature is several degrees colder than the previous low of minus 128.6 degrees F (minus 89.2 degrees C), set on July 21, 1983 at the Russian Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica, NASA said in a statement,
According to scientists, these temperatures are far colder than the lowest recorded temperature in the United States, measured at minus 79.6 F (minus 62 C) in Alaska; in northern Asia at minus 90.4 F (minus 68 C); or even at the summit of the Greenland Ice Sheet at minus 103 F (minus 75 C).
The discovery was made when the researchers were studying large snow dunes, sculpted and polished by the wind, on the East Antarctic Plateau. When the scientists looked closer, they witnessed cracks on the surface of the snow between the dunes, possibly created when wintertime temperatures dropped so low that the top layer of snow shrunk. This led scientists to examine the temperature range and prompted them to hunt for the coldest places using satellite data.
“The record-breaking conditions seem to happen when a wind pattern or an atmospheric pressure gradient tries to move the air back uphill, pushing against the air that was sliding down,” Scambos said. “This allows the air in the low hollows to remain there longer and cool even further under the clear, extremely dry sky conditions. When the cold air lingers in these pockets it reaches ultra-low temperatures.”
According to scientists, a layer in the atmosphere above the ice plateau reaches a certain minimum temperature and prevents the ice plateau’s surface from getting any colder.
Scambos said that his team will continue to refine their map of Earth’s coldest places using Landsat 8 data. Researchers are also eager to see what new results come out of the satellite, both from icy plateaus and Earth's warmer regions.