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Antarctica Site Posts Near-Record Cold

September 19, 2012, 4:41:20 AM EDT

This month, Russia's Vostok station has registered some remarkably low late-winter temperatures, even for the coldest known spot on Earth.

As of Sept. 18, the average temperature for the month so far was -73.0 degrees C (-99.4 F), or -6.7 degrees C (-12.0 F) below normal.

Three nights have have seen the temperature break through the minus-80-degree mark (-112 F). Coldest of these, on Sept. 15, bottomed at -84.2 degrees C (-119.6 F).

The station's lowest September temperature on record is -85.6 degrees C (-122.1 F), the Vostok Wikipedia entry says.

The average temperature on Sept. 15 was -78.5 degrees C (-109.3 F), which is 12.3 degrees C (-23 F) below normal.

The coldest daytime, that of Sept. 10, had a high of only -74.5 degrees C (-102.1 F).

Admittedly, this site, as with so much of the interior of Antarctica, is almost always unbelievably cold, even in summer.

The different between climatological average temperatures and the present month's lowest observed readings may have little meaning with readings so far below the freezing mark.


This NASA image of Antarctica outlines the area of sub-glacial Lake Vostok, which underlies Vostok station, East Antarctica.

The setting of Vostok station invites extremes.

After all, Vostok has been as cold as -89.2 degrees C (-128.6 F), on July 21, 1983, and is thus the holder of the earth's lowest reliably measured temperature. An unconfirmed reading of -91 degrees C (-132 F) has been reported from the winter of 1997, the Wikipedia entry says.

The surface of snow and ice is almost table-top flat for hundreds of kilometers/miles in all directions. It lies 3,488 meters (11,444 feet) above sea level, atop a stack of glacial ice about 3,800 meters (about 12,500 feet) thick.

Vostok lies within 1,290 km (800 miles) of the South Pole, which results in a "polar night" lasting 130 days.

Polar night ends in late August, the station's coldest month, and September sees steady day-to-day increase in daylight, the sun edging higher above the horizon. September starts with less than seven hours of possible sunshine, but this reaches about 14 hours and 30 minutes by the last day of the month.

The boost in sunshine between the 1st and the 30th allows normal daily average temperature to rise from -67.2 degrees C (-89.0 F) to -61.7 degrees C (-79.1 F).

The September weather can become almost bearable for the properly dressed, as a reading of -38.3 degrees has been registered during the month. But this was well shy of the "balmy" minus-12.2 degrees C reached on Jan. 11, 2002, near the top of the Antarctic summer.

Interestingly, Vostok is even colder than the South Pole, owing mostly to its higher elevation.

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