The Coldest Place on Earth

The coldest temperature ever reliably recorded on the surface of the Earth occurred on July 21, 1983, when a temperature of -128.6° F was recorded at Vostok Station, Antarctica (φ = 78° 27′ 52″ S, λ = 106° 50′ 14″ E, elevation 11,444 ft.). Located at the center of the East Antarctic ice sheet, Vostok Station is prone to extremely cold temperatures given its high elevation and location far inland (~868 miles) from the moderating influence of the ocean. Other contributing factors to the low temperature are the extremely low humidity (water vapor retains heat near the surface) and the high albedo of the snow and ice which reflects much solar radiation back out into space.

Vostok Station is the most isolated of all the established research stations on the Antarctic continent. Only about 30 scientists and engineers reside at Vostok Station during the summer months, but during winter that number dwindles to about 15.

The monthly average temperature at Vostok is as follows: April -84.6°F, May -86.4°F, June -85.5°F, July -88.1°F, August -90.2°F, September -86.8°F, October -70.8°F, November -44.7°F, December -25.2°F, January -25.6°F, February -47.7°F, March -72.2°F. The warmest temperature ever recorded at Vostok was +6.8° F on January 5, 1974.

For the current temperature at several locations within Antarctica, including Vostok, see [apologies for the display ads, but out of my control]. For a Vostok weather forecast, visit Planning a trip soon?

Vostok is a desert, averaging just 0.9 inches of snowfall each year. Does any non-dormant indigenous life exist at Vostok Station? No. Except for the human presence there, on the surface it is lifeless. But, fortuitously, Vostok Station sits above a giant freshwater lake called, appropriately, Lake Vostok, 13,100 feet under the ice. Scientists believe that life exists there, but they want to be very, very careful not to biocontaminate the lake as they begin exploring it in earnest.

It is interesting for us to ponder the possibility that sub-surface life exists on Mars and some of the satellites in the outer solar system. Though far more difficult than Lake Vostok to explore, someday we will.

Incidentally, at higher elevations along the Eastern Antarctica Plateau (specifically, along the ridge between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji), satellite measurements between 2010 and 2013 indicate that even colder surface temperatures than at Vostok Station have been reached, perhaps even as low as -144°F. However, since these are not surface temperature measurements, the current Vostok Station record of -128.6° F still holds as the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth. And with anthropogenic global warming, that record is not likely to be broken anytime soon.

Factino: Did you know that it takes a lot more energy to cool down humid air than to cool down dry air? Air conditioners cool much more efficiently in Arizona and New Mexico than they do in Florida and Louisiana. Moreover, evaporative coolers in desert areas can reduce energy use by 80% or more over refrigerative air conditioning, but they only work well in dry climates.