A remote region in East Antarctica has set a new record for the coldest place on Earth, with temperatures dipping to a bone-chilling minus 93.2 degrees Celsius, say NASA scientists.

The temperatures in several hollows of a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau can dip below minus 92 degrees Celsius on a clear winter night.

The new record of minus 136 Fahrenheit (minus 93.2 C) was set on August 10, 2010, NASA said.

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.

Scientists made the discovery while analysing 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 US Geological Survey (USGS).

Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, joined a team of researchers who turned to sensitive satellite instruments that can pick up thermal radiation emitted from Earth’s surface, even in areas lacking much heat.

Using these sensors to scan the East Antarctic Plateau, Scambos detected extremely cold temperatures on a 997 km stretch of the ridge at high elevations between Argus and Fuji, and even colder temperatures 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.

Researchers analysed 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.

Coldest inhabited place

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, NASA said.

The quest to find out just how cold it can get on Earth — and why — started when the researchers were studying large snow dunes, sculpted and polished by the wind, on the East Antarctic Plateau.

When the scientists looked closer, they noticed cracks in the snow surface between the dunes, possibly created when wintertime temperatures got so low the top snow layer shrunk.

This led scientists to wonder what the temperature range was, and prompted them to hunt for the coldest places using data from two types of satellite sensors.

The findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

(This article was published on December 10, 2013)
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