Antarctic temperature hit record low

A satellite picture of Antarctica NASA

Baby, it’s cold outside. But if you think this is bad, picture spending your summer months in Antarctica: a new data set shows that the South Pole set a world record for low temperature in 2010, and came within fractions of a degree of the same temperature this July.

According to new NASA satellite data, the mercury dipped to -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit in August 2010, and -135.3 degrees on July 31, 2013.

Researchers called it “soul-crushing” cold. It’s so cold that most of the time researchers actually need to breathe through a snorkel that brings air into the coat through a sleeve and warms it up "so you don't inhale by accident" the cold air, said ice scientist Ted Scambos, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The area is known for harsh conditions. This month, the organizers of the Walking with the Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge, an event in which Prince Harry and a team of wounded veterans were racing across Antarctica, downgraded the event from a race to trek due to safety concerns. 

 Scambos said the new record is "50 degrees colder than anything that has ever been seen in Alaska or Siberia or certainly North Dakota."

The old record had been -128.6 degrees, which is -89.2 degrees Celsius.

"It's more like you'd see on Mars on a nice summer day in the poles," Scambos said, from the American Geophysical Union scientific meeting in San Francisco Monday, where he announced the data. "I'm confident that these pockets are the coldest places on Earth."

However, it won't be in the Guinness Book of World Records because these were satellite measured, not from thermometers, Scambos said.

"Thank God, I don't know how exactly it feels," Scambos said. But he said scientists do routinely make naked 100 degree below zero dashes outside in the South Pole, so people can survive that temperature for about three minutes.

On Monday, the coldest U.S. temperature was a relatively balmy 27 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in Yellowstone, Wyo., said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private firm Weather Underground.

"If you want soul-crushing cold, you really have to go overseas," Scambos said in a phone interview. "It's just a whole other level of cold because on that cold plateau, conditions are perfect."

Scambos said the air is dry, the ground chilly, the skies cloudless and cold air swoops down off a dome and gets trapped in a chilly lower spot "hugging the surface and sliding around."

While the reading is interesting, it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme, said Waleed Abdalati, an ice scientist at the University of Colorado and NASA's former chief scientist.

Both Abdalati, who wasn't part of the measurement team, and Scambos said this is likely an unusual random reading in a place that hasn't been measured much before and could have been colder or hotter in the past and we wouldn't know.

"It does speak to the range of conditions on this Earth, some of which we haven't been able to observe," Abdalati said.

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