Why is Antarctica so Cold?
Several factors combine to making Antarctica one of the coldest and least hospitable places on the Earth:
- Unlike the Arctic region, Antarctica is a continent surrounded by an ocean which means that interior areas do not benefit from the moderating influence of water.
- With 98% of its area covered with snow and ice, the Antarctic continent reflects most of the sun’s light rather than absorbing it.
- The extreme dryness of the air causes any heat that is radiated back into the atmosphere to be lost instead of being absorbed by the water vapor in the atmosphere.
- During the winter, the size of Antarctica doubles as the surrounding sea water freezes, effectively blocking heat transfer from the warmer surrounding ocean.
- Antarctica has a higher average elevation than any other continent on Earth which results in even colder temperatures.
Weather observations in Antarctica have been recorded only for the last 150 years. Detailed climatic monitoring began in the late 1950’s. Most Antarctic stations today are equipped with sophisticated weather monitoring technology and are manned by professional meteorologists who perform observations around the clock. Automated stations and remote sensing equipment provide a wealth of previously unattainable data and help to paint a more accurate picture of Antarctic weather continent-wide. Satellite measurements and photographs of the continent continue to reveal valuable information concerning cloud cover, storm movement, ice formation and distribution patterns, and a variety of other environmental characteristics.