The Coldest Place on Earth

There are a few factors that will lead to a colder climate. While there are continuous fluctuations of temperatures, there are some regions that continually exhibit the coldest temperatures on the planet. The two factors leading to a colder climate are latitude and elevation.

It is common knowledge that closer to the poles experience colder temperatures than near the tropics. But how come? It’s simple. The Earth is not aligned perfectly straight on its axis; rather there is a tilt of about 23 degrees. This tilt is the reason locations at higher latitudes experience seasons. If there was no tilt, the temperatures would still vary from location to location, but each location would have constant seasons. While the rotation of the Earth causes day and night, it is the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, combined with the tilt, that create seasons. For people who experience seasons, summer means warmer temperatures. This is a result of more direct radiation received from the Sun. For the northern hemisphere, we are titled towards the sun the most in June, and the furthest in December. Locations that are at higher latitudes receive overall less radiation throughout the year. During their respective winter months, these locations receive little radiation, with locations above the arctic circle not receiving any sunlight during the winter. There is also considerable sinking motion of air that has traveled from the equator. This sets the stage for temperatures to fall fairly rapidly. Snow and ice cover also help reflect sunlight during the “summer” months to help keep it colder.

The continent of Antarctica (south pole) represents the overall coldest place on Earth. The combination of minimal solar radiation and high elevation have lead to some of the coldest recorded temperatures on the planet (-128 Degrees Fahrenheit at Vostok, 1983). For the northern hemisphere, the coldest recorded temperature was -90 Degrees F, while North America’s record is -80 Degrees F.

Elevation is the other factor that influences temperature. As air rises, it cools. This is due to the decrease in pressure and the increased distance from a heating source (the Earth’s surface). Elevation has the power to override the affects of latitude if significant enough. Towering mountain ranges, even at low latitudes, often display climates similar to polar regions. The higher the mountain, the stronger the effects. The Himalayan mountains in northern India have the highest elevations in the world and is classified as a polar climate. Other notable mountains are the Andes of South America, the Rockies of Northern America, the Urals of Russia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and a few others. While these places exhibit much colder annual conditions from their surrounding areas, they are no match for locations within the arctic circles. Long dark winters, low annual radiation, and high reflectivity of snow and ice all combine to produce the coldest conditions on Earth