Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded on Earth

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The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth is -89.2 degrees Celsius (-128.5 degrees Fahrenheit) at Vostok, Antarctica on July 21, 1983. That all-time low broke the previous world-record minimum of -88.3 °C (-126.9 °F), set on August 24, 1960, also at Vostok.

Vostok is a Russian research station located high in the middle of the East Antarctic ice sheet, about 1,300 kilometres from the geographic South Pole. This is a place where the sun doesn't rise during winter. Besides being extremely far south, the station's high elevation, at 3,420 metres (11,220 feet), helps it get really cold.

The conditions that caused the temperature to drop exceptionally low at Vostok in July 1983 were clear skies accompanied by calm air. Vertical mixing of the air was minimal and no wind had stirred for some time.

Vostok is not an outlier in the Antarctic temperature regime. On July 20th, 1968, the temperature at another high elevation research base, called Plateau Station, sank to -86.2 °C (-123.1 °F).

In Search of Even Lower Temperatures

The Vostok temperature is the lowest recorded in the world since official record keeping began in 1912. Quite likely, temperatures somewhere on earth have dropped even lower, but there was simply no equipment around at the time to take proper measurements. After all, not many people hang out in the harshest environments on earth.

But scientists recently set a weather station up where they believe the temperature gets even colder than at Vostok.

In general, a combination of the right weather and local geography produces severe cold. The most frigid weather requires no sun, clear skies and calm air. Geographically, the coldest temperatures happen near the poles and away from oceans. The eastern Antarctic plateau, east-central Siberia and the central Greenland ice cap all offer these conditions.

It also gets colder at higher elevations. So a few years ago scientists in the eastern Antarctic climbed upwards in search of a temperature that will break the current record minimum. Dome Argus, more commonly called Dome A, is a peak on the East Antarctic ice cap. Although the highest point on the continent, the Dome is a subtle summit in the midst of a massive and rather flat looking icefield.

Yet Dome A does lie 664 metres (2,178 feet) above Vostok, high enough to become measurably colder. Plus Dome A gets the calm air and clear skies so conducive to extreme cold snaps.

In 2005, Chinese and Australian scientists set up an automatic weather station at Dome A to measure daily temperatures. During the first five years of operation, the coldest temperature recorded there was -82.5 °C (-116.5 °F) in July 2005, not low enough yet to set a new record.

Remote sensing by NASA satellites from 2003 to 2013 measured surface temperatures in the vicinity of Dome A that were even lower than the Vostok record. The lowest one, found on August 10, 2010 was -93.2 °C (-135.8 °F). Another reading, almost as cold, (-93.0 °C or -135.3 °F) was made on July 13, 2013. The temperatures were found in small hollows on the icy landscape where cold air collects.

When announcing these extreme temperatures the USA's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) claimed the August 2010 low as a new world record. The record is not recognized though by the World Meteorological Organization's World Weather and Climate Extremes Archive, an international committee that verifies weather extremes. They do not consider temperatures measured by remote sensing as official records. So the Vostok record, which was made using standard equipment and methods, still stands as the official coldest temperature on earth.

Coldest Temperature Measured in the North

Outside of the Antarctic, Russia serves up the coldest temperatures in the world. Temperatures as low as -67.7 °C (-90 °F) were measured at Verkhoyansk, Russia on two days, February 5 and 7, 1892 and again at Oymyakon, Russia on February 6, 1933.

Both places lie in a remote part of eastern Siberia at around 107 metres (350 feet) elevation. Unofficial reports from the area claim that even lower temperatures, down to -77.8 C (-108 F) have been reached.

What's particularly striking about Verkhoyansk and Oymyakon is that unlike other places with the world's lowest temperatures, these are not modern research stations visited mainly by scientists. Verkhoyansk and Oymyakon are centuries-old towns with several hundred permanent residents.

Coldest Temperature in the West

On the other side of the world, in the western hemisphere, the lowest temperatures have been found in Greenland. At Northice, a research station established by the British North Greenland Expedition on the ice cap, scientists documented a minimum temperature of -66.1 C (-87 F) on January 9, 1954. In just two winters of record keeping, from 1952 to 1954, the temperature at Northice dropped below -59.4 C (-75 F) on 16 days.

The coldest temperatures officially recorded on earth.
Place Temperature C Temperature F Day
Vostok, Antarctica -89.2 -128.5 July 21, 1983
Vostok, Antarctica -88.3 -126.9 August 24, 1960
Plateau Station, Antarctica -86.2 -123.1 July 20, 1968
Dome Argus, Antarctica -82.5 -116.5 July, 2005
Verkhoyansk, Russia -67.8 -90.0 February 5, 1892
Verkhoyansk, Russia -67.8 -90.0 February 7, 1892
Oymyakon, Russia -67.8 -90.0 February 6, 1933
Northice, Greenland -66.1 -87.0 January 9, 1954

Arizona State University and World Meteorological Organization. World Weather and Climate Extremes Archive. Global Weather & Climate Extremes. School of Geographical Sciences, Arizona State University. Tempe, Arizona USA.

Australian Antarctic Division. 2010. Dome A: Colder than Cold.

Paul Krause and Kathleen Flood. 1997. Weather and Climate Extremes. US Army Corps of Engineers, Topographic Engineering Center. Alexandria, Virginia.

NSIDC National Snow and Ice Data Center. Press Room. Dec 9 2013. Press Release: Landsat 8 helps unveil the coldest place on Earth.

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