Which is the coldest place on Earth? It is a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau where temperatures in several hollows can dip below minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 92 degrees Celsius) on a clear winter night.
A team of researchers reported the findings on Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Scientists made the discovery while analyzing the most detailed global surface temperature maps to date, developed with data from remote sensing satellites including the new Landsat 8, a joint project of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Researchers analyzed 32 years' worth of data from several satellite instruments. They found temperatures plummeted to record lows dozens of times in clusters of pockets near a high ridge between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the ice sheet known as the East Antarctic Plateau. The new record of minus 136 F (minus 93.2 C) was set on August 10, 2010.
That is several degrees colder than the previous low of minus 128.6 F (minus 89.2 C), set in 1983 at the Russian Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica.
However, the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth will not be featured in the Guinness Book of World Records because the reading was satellite measured, not from thermometers, says Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
The coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth is northeastern Siberia, where temperatures in the towns of Verkhoyansk and Oimekon dropped to a bone-chilling 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 67.8 C) in 1892 and 1933, respectively.
"We had a suspicion this Antarctic ridge was likely to be extremely cold, and colder than Vostok because it's higher up the hill," said Ted Scambos. "With the launch of Landsat 8, we finally had a sensor capable of really investigating this area in more detail," he added.
Using advanced sensors to scan the East Antarctic Plateau, Scambos detected extremely cold temperatures on a 620-mile stretch of the ridge at high elevations between Argus and Fuji, and even colder temperatures at lower elevations in pockets off the ridge. Then, with the higher resolution of the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) aboard Landsat 8, the research team pinpointed the record-setting pockets.
The study is an example of some of the intriguing science possible with Landsat 8 and the TIRS instrument, which was built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Since its launch in February, Landsat 8 has captured approximately 550 scenes per day of Earth's land surface.
"With Landsat 8, we expect to see more accurate and more detailed maps of the landscape than we've ever been able to see," said James Irons, the mission's project scientist at Goddard.
Researchers also are eager to see what new results come out of Landsat 8, both from icy plateaus and Earth's warmer regions.
"Finding the coldest areas on Earth is just the beginning of the discoveries we're going to be able to make with Landsat 8," Scambos says.
by RTT Staff Writer
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