Satellites Help Pinpoint the Coldest Spot on Earth

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With temperatures in the U.S. plunging this week, researchers have found a way to make the snow-packed streets of the east coast seem like a tropical paradise.

Scientists at the American Geophysical Union meeting this week in San Francisco unveiled research that has pinpointed the coldest place on Earth. The location is, of course, in Antarctica, on a high ridge in the East Antarctic Plateau. At that location, between sites known as Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, temperatures in local hollows can drop to below -133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (-92 degrees Celsius).

"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, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "With the launch of Landsat 8, we finally had a sensor capable of really investigating this area in more detail."

Scambos and his colleagues were able to identify the coldest place on Earth using data from satellites including Landsat 8, which was launched in February by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Using the data researchers were able to develop the most detailed temperature maps of Earth yet created.

The research has helped weather scientists understand how cold temperatures can get on Earth. It has also revealed details about how those low temperatures are reached on the surface. Researchers found that the surface on the East Antarctic Plateau rapidly drop when the Antarctic sky clears of clouds. The cool, dense air near the ground slides down the ridge and forms pockets of the coldest temperatures on Earth.

"By causing the air to be stationary for extended periods, while continuing to radiate more heat away into space, you get the absolute lowest temperatures we're able to find," said Scambos. "We suspected that we would be looking for one magical site that got extremely cold, but what we found was a large strip of Antarctica at high altitude that regularly reached these record low temperatures."

A pair of videos released today by NASA illustrate these concepts, and demonstrates just how inhospitable the coldest place on Earth really is:

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