Polar Myths: The North Pole is the coldest place on earth.

Surprisingly, the truth is just the opposite:



The coldest place in the world is Antarctica, the continent buried under all that snow and ice at the south pole. The coldest atmospheric temperature ever recorded there (or anywhere else on earth) was -128.5 degrees Fahrenheit at Vostok, Antarctica on July 21st, 1983.

If they are both at the extreme ends of the Earth, why does the South Pole always seem to be colder than the North Pole?

For starters, the South Pole doesn’t just seem to be colder than the North Pole. It is colder. Seriously colder.

Of course, both poles are cold because the sun never rises especially high in the sky, and they both spend six months of the year without any sun at all.

So why is the North Pole relatively balmy compared to the South Pole, where it is as cold as my masters’ souls? It has to do with what the poles are sitting on.

The North Pole is riding on a layer of ice that, in many places, is only a few feet thick at most, floating along on top of the Arctic Ocean. Like any good ocean worth it’s salt, the Arctic is kind of a heat bank. It takes heat from the atmosphere in the summer and warms the air around it in the winter. Granted, it doesn’t warm it much, but enough to take some of the chill off.

In contrast, the South Pole is sitting on nothing but ice and stone. First there is the ice sheet, thousands of feet thick in places and then there is the continent itself. All that puts the pole about 9,000 feet above sea level, which means it isn’t getting the benefit of any warming from the sea.