Halley Highland Games

It was Burns night this weekend so despite the nearest thing to us that could be described as a mountain probably being an iceberg we organised a Highland games, with hammer throwing, tug of war and a bit of caber tossing. The sun stayed out all day too meaning my “highland attire”, consisting of a bed sheet and a vest, wasnt actually too cold. The Hammer throw was a bit disappointing – with my first throw ending up with me in a heap in the snow, though my next effort was slightly better though still off the lead. Tug of war went as well as can be expected when the surface you are trying to get purchase on is ice but I did manage to come first in the caber toss, make of that what you will.

halley highland games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

halley highland games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

halley highland games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

halley highland games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

halley highland games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

halley highland games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yup, that’s me in the dress.

Later on in the evening we had the Haggis address (given by two of the French speakers on base, which made for an interesting accent) and then, for some unknown reason, a night singing eighties power ballads very loudly!

Flying!

A while ago I got the chance to go out into the field in a BAS Twin Otter. This is a pretty rare treat for us at Halley but for me it was a bit odd. I’m not too fond of flying (in fact it freaks me out completely) but there was no way I wanted to pass up the chance to fly across Antarctica!

So, setting aside my nerves I got ready to head out and see my first bit of solid land for over a year. A field party was on the way out to the Shackleton range of mountains about two hours by plane further into the continent. Two Twin Otter aicraft were set up to do a couple of rotations out to the site taking out all the kit for the camp, skidoos and sledges and the kit needed for research. The journey out would be with passengers and then the trip back would need an extra person as a co-pilot – me!

antarctic twin otter pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The take off and quick flight up to around eight thousand feet gave fantastic views of the area surrounding base with some of the features I’ve been out to visit such as The Gatekeeper immediately obvious from the air. We flew off to the east and the views down onto the continent were spectacular. Glaciers spilling down to become ice shelf and huge areas of crevassing many kilometres long were all clearly visible. Some of the areas of ice, with long dark rents in the surface looked like an image taken by an electron microscope.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, after a few hours flying I spotted land, actual land, away in the distance!

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shackleton mountains, where the group of scientists we were dropping off were staying in pyramid tents for the next few weeks. They were taking rock samples from the exposed slopes of these mountains. Most of the mountains were buried under two thousand metres of ice,  with another two thousand feet left sticking out above.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the mountains had peaks and valleys with small glaciers flowing downhill. Also dotted around the landscape were smaller, more isolated Nunataks. Then in some areas of the range were huge plateaus, themselves covered with ice, like a miniature version of the Antarctic plateau itself, rising another few hundred metres above the rock.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far so good but now the journey gets cooler. For the trip back I was the co-pilot. This meant I actually got to fly the plane back to Halley!  Mark, the pilot, put me at my ease and was quick to point out that there wasn’t anything I could do that he couldn’t take care of immediately, gave me a quick lesson and handed over the controls. Now, I’m not going to pretend I was doing anything complicated, I was just keeping the aircraft at the right height, right speed, flying in the right direction (most of the time) and was the right way up in the sky but bloody hell – flying  a plane over Antarctica! That’s not something you get to do everyday is it?

On the way back we flew closer to the coast on our approach to Halley so I managed to get a good view of the rumples and the creeks before coming down into Halley and seeing the base and the surrounding area once again.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you go, another anecdote that I’ll be telling over and over when I get back because it’s  bloody awesome – “this one time, I piloted a twin otter across Antarctica….”

 

Holiday Down by the Sea….

After being stuck in the ice just around the corner from us the R.S.S. Ernest Shackleton finally arrived down at the creeks near Halley. this meant the relief could begin and we could get all the food, materials, fuel and people for the next year up on station. Relief is the busiest time of year down here and we were going to do it twenty four hours a day in two twelve hour shifts. I was on the night shift and, as a welcome change, was down at the ship helping unload cargo.

The convoy of vehicles and sledges set off down to the coast to be greeted by the sight of the Shack, moored up against the remaining sea ice about a kilometre from the shelf edge.

RSS Ernest Shcakleton against the sea ice

The cargo was unloaded onto waiting sledges and then taken up to the ice shelf where the sledges were hooked together in trains and the pulled back to base.

Despite it being nighttime the sun was well up in the sky so the night shift aspect wasn’t actually to bad. Though shifting one thousand and seven hundred drums of fuel out of the ship for twelve hours was a bit full on.

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Fuel Drums. Thousands of em…

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Flip em over….

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Then sling em up and crane em out.

Anyway, despite the long hours and hard work it was great being down at the ship. Showers you could stay in for longer than five minutes, lots of fresh food and a a different view outside were all good. The ships crew were cool too.

adelie penguin

We got plenty of little visitors hanging around near the ship too.

Just before leaving the remaining 2014 winter team came down to the ship for a meal together and then we got ready to jump ship and wave the Shack off. However, just as we were set to leave the sea ice that had seemed so solid when we were loading eight tonne sledges onto it now began to break up. Pretty cool watching it all snap off. Although you know you are not really at the coast but rather just on the ice it still felt like it. When the ice began to break up it quickly began to feel like where we actually were – above deep dark ocean rather than at the seaside!

sea ice breaking up

 

 

 

 

 

antarctic sea ice breaking up

 

 

 

 

 

It was pretty freaky watching chunks of ice that still had your footprints on just disappear!

To actually get back onto the ice shelf the Shack had reverse out to sea and then ram, back into the sea ice, finding a spot that was solid enough not to break off. This took quite a few goes. We eventually got back to stable ice and the were hoisted off the deck and down onto the ice on the wor geordie – no idea how to spell that but it’s big donut with cargo netting attached that is hoisted up by the ships crane (with you hanging onto it). That was a pretty odd end to my stay on the ship.

Oh yeah – we also saw a Leopard Seal basking down on the ice. quite a rare visitor down at Halley.

Right now I’m back up on base and the place is busier than ever – and I’m still adjusting to that!

Speaking to Meadowlark Elementary, Kansas

Last month I had the chance to speak to the fifth grade class at Meadowlark elementary school in Andover, Kansas, after some of the teachers there got in touch with me. They were keen to know about life down here, about climate change and about how it affects things in Antarctica. This is not something I’ve not done much of and I was both thrilled and a little bit nervous about talking to a big group of people and telling them about what I’ve been up to.

kansas1Before our talk they sent through some information about Kansas, with some history, things to do and places to visit such as Dodge City and the Space Museum – somewhere I’d like to visit if I got the chance. They also sent some really cool facts – such as the fact that Amelia Earhart was from there, Kansas is right in the centre of the U.S. and more bizarre things such as the fact that it was one illegal in Kansas to eat ice cream on cherry pie!

I managed to send some pictures through and arranged a time to call. Richard the Halley metbabe and resident climate expert joined me to provide some scientific knowledge to go along my enthusiastic but slightly less knowledgeable rambling.

So, with a slideshow of pictures and an audience to speak to we both sat huddled up to the telephone, excited but hoping that things would go smoothly – we both have strange accents (though mines cooler than Richards apparently!)and we are on a satellite uplink thousands of miles away that can sometimes have quite big delays, so we hoped we would come across nice and clearly.

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We showed them some pictures of our crazy looking house, talked about the history of Halley and told them a little about what we get up to both at work and when we get chanced to head out into the great white beyond. And of course we showed them some cute penguin pictures!

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school1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spoke a little bit about why it’s so cold here and why everything here is dominated by ice.

The questions we got from the kids were great. Some really intelligent ones and some that made Richard think quite hard for an answer! They also laughed at some of my jokes, which was nice.

Richard and I had a great time and before we knew it well over an hour had passed and we had to get off the phone and back to work!

To say it was cool chatting away was an understatement. It was great being able to share what we’re up to.

To Mrs Moss, Ms. Hoopes, Mrs Loy and Mrs Smokorwski thank you for getting in touch and then listening to the two of us waffle on and show off a bit!

And to the kids in the fifth grade we spoke to – thank you so much for the great questions and for making it such fun. It was a real highlight speaking to you guys. Hopefully in a few years one of you might be down here in this insanely beautiful place chatting with another group of kids far way across the planet!

 

Summer begins…

So it’s been a while (again) since I made a blog post. There are a few reasons for this. First off the winter is now over. It’s a strange feeling saying that – winter, and all the difficulties that went with it for us, now seems to be all but a memory. The base is now humming with activity, new faces are everywhere around base and once quiet areas of the station are now full. The queue in the dining room is much bigger and extra tables and chairs are now out – the days of us all sitting around one table at meal times are gone. The first planes arrived at the end of October. A big moment in any winterer’s calendar. The arrival of new people, awaited materials and, importantly, fresh food like eggs!!

fresh eggs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We now have full, twenty four hour sunlight and that lack of any sort of night sky adds to the huge sense of change. Winter, with its cold temperatures and glorious darkness now seems so long ago as to be almost unreal. Work has increased too. We are working longer hours as we move from keeping the base running (yeah, we had a quiet, uneventful winter!) to the summer season of improvements and new projects. This along with the regular summer jobs like moving the outbuildings up and out of the accumulated snow mean free time is at much more of a premium.

So, what have I been up to? Since I last posted the first planes arrived with new folk as I mentioned – some of them our replacements as next year’s wintering crew, including my replacement Pete. Some are summer only staff who have come along to work on summer science or technical projects and then there are also the odd flight crew who will drop goods and people off and then either bugger off again or stay until the weather lets them escape. The flipside of new people arriving is the departure of old ones. First out the door was James our doctor who had come to the end of his 2 year stay at Halley. He was followed by Gerard the chef and then Kev comms and Paul the gennymech. It’s a bit strange watching those you have wintered with leave and the place feels very different without them.

Summer is the busy season in Antarctica. With twenty four hour light and much more hospitable conditions it’s the time when most of the work gets done in preparation for the harsher winter. It’s also the case that summer is the only time that things and people can get in and out – so if you don’t get things done in the summer then they might have to wait a year!

Some of the early jobs to be done are moving the outbuildings around base. As well as the modules we have a garage, a summer accommodation building called the Drewery, a workshop and lots of smaller buildings and cabooses. These soon get buried like everything else does and so have to be lifted up and moved once a year. With a building weighing eighty tonnes this can be quite a challenge. Everyone on base is involved in some way or another from the people who stand inside making sure things don’t fall over to the garage team who do the planning and provide the horsepower – and seem to have the whole process down to a fine art, it’s fairly impressive to see huge buildings (the Drewery sleeps about thirty and has its own kitchen, living area and laundry as well as showers, toilets and plant rooms) being dragged across the ice.

building move in antarctica

 

 

 

 

 

building move in antarctica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My involvement with these huge moves is making sure they still have power when they arrive at their new destination. Power cables slung high in the air are unplugged, removed and then re-hung. This is a fairly hefty job given the size of some of these cables and it’s done high in the air on a cherry picker. When the weather’s rough it’s none too pleasant but this year the sun was out for most of the building moves leaving me with a nice Halley tan – brown face with nice white tan marks where the wraparound sun glasses have been.

Temperatures have been falling steadily for the past month or so (I should say rising but we stopped using negative temps due to positive temps being something that happens elsewhere in the world, when we say 15c we mean -15c!) as I type it’s a balmy -4c outside, I think there are places back home that will be seeing temps like that – though remember it’s high summer for us lot. I tried explaining to people back home about how warm it feels at these temps last summer. Well now it’s even more so after spending a winter with lows of -55. When the sun’s out and the wind is low it feels lovely outside even when it’s -15c, real T-shirt weather! Hopefully we get plenty more days like that through the summer. As soon as any sort of wind picks up then it feels icy once again so hopefully we don’t have too many more blows.

The ship is due in on December 23rd and relief is going to be a busy one this year so we’ll all be celebrating Christmas on Saturday the 20th before the 24 hour relief starts. Me, I’ll be working down at the ship unloading cargo on the night shift (though it will obviously be bright sunny daylight all through the night) I’m pretty chuffed with this because it means I’ll get to go live on the ship for a couple of weeks and they have much more fresh food down there, en-suite showers and a nice view out to sea. It’ll kind of be like a little holiday except for the lugging hundreds of tonnes of fuel barrels and freight around for 12hrs every day!

So, once the Shack is here summer will well and truly be here! It’s a strange feeling. With winter over and all the new stuff that’s happening you can’t help but look toward going home. Whilst I’m still enjoying being here a really am starting to miss the real world and the people in it. But, despite the feeling of being near the end it’s still bloody months to go before I’ll be leaving!

I shaved my beard off which was a bit sad. I regretted it as soon as I looked in the mirror! I’d shaved my head too so It seems I went from looking like an old school polar explorer to a new born baby. My head felt really small and my face was freezing. A few people actually walked past me without recognising me! Still, plenty of time to grow another I suppose

I also had the chance to speak to a group of fifth graders from a school in Kansas about my time down here with a little help from Richard the metbabe who talked about climate – there’ll be a post about this shortly. It was really fun though!

Why is Antarctica so Cold?

A very special treat now with a guest post on the climate of Antarctica from the resident Halley MetBabe (atmospheric scientist) Richard “Captain Awesome” Warren.

 

Just why is Antarctica SO cold?!

A common question to ask is “Why is Antarctica so cold, even so much colder than the Arctic? North Pole and South Pole should both be as cold as each other right?” Wrong!

To understand why Antarctica is so much colder, we need to first know why places are warm or cold in the first place.

Hottest and Coldest Places

Look at the image below. It is a map that shows the mean global temperature, with the equator drawn in the middle. Based on the fact that the sun warms the equator most and the poles the least, you would expect the equator to be warmest and the poles to be coldest. As you can see this is generally true, however, note exceptions to the rule. Canada, Greenland and North-eastern Russia are much colder than the ocean between them, and there is a very cold patch to the North-east of India. Antarctica too is exceedingly cold, whereas India itself, North Australia and parts of North Africa are even warmer than the equator.

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Atmospheric Circulation

2So what makes these places warmer or colder than they should be? There are many reasons, but the first thing to understand is how heat moves around the earth. If you stand next to something warm like a radiator, you’ll notice that you can feel the warmth much more by putting your hand above it, rather than below it. This is because warm air rises, and cold air sinks.

 

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If you warm air up it becomes less dense than the air around it, and this causes it to rise, exactly how a hot air balloon rises by trapping a balloon-full of hot, and therefore less dense, air. As air rises and moves away from the source of heat, it cools and becomes denser, and sinks. This circulation from a heat source is called convection. The picture of the radiator in the room is very simple but the principle is exactly the same with the Earth.

The equator is warmed by the sun; the air rises into the atmosphere and moves away from the equator. Here it cools, and descends back to ground level and makes its way back to the equator. The circulation is actually more complicated than this, but it gives you the basic idea of how air moves heat around the Earth.

Based on this, Antarctica should be as cold as the Arctic, as they are the same distance away from the radiator, or the heat source at the equator. As we know however, Antarctica is much colder. Now we’re going to have a quick look at other places that are different too, and once we understand why these differ, we will look at Antarctica again.

 

 

Land vs. Sea

So why are Russia, Canada and Greenland colder than the ocean between them?

Unfortunately, here it gets more complicated! There are other factors at work besides just the circulation in the atmosphere.

Land vs. Sea

  • Have you ever run a bath that was too hot, left it for a while to cool down, yet half an hour later the water is still really warm? Yet if you take a tray out of the oven, 10 minutes later it is cool enough to touch?
  • Water takes much longer to warm up than a solid. If you leave a pebble and a bowl of water in the sun for 1 hour, the pebble will be much warmer than the water.
  • Again, simple principle, but the same with Earth. An ocean will take much longer to warm up than the land, yet it remains warm for longer when the heat source is removed. Warm water in the ocean flows from the equator to the pole, similar to the air in the atmosphere. Whereas the air will be cold by the time it reaches the pole, the water will still be quite warm.
  • Therefore, large land masses such as Russia and Canada get VERY cold in winter when the sun disappears, but can actually be quite warm in summer when the sun warms them up.
  • In comparison, the UK is a small country surrounded by the ocean. Based on how far away from the equator it is, we could expect it to have a mean temperature of between 0 and -10oC, such as central Russia or Canada which are the same distance away. However, the ocean that surrounds the UK warms up slower than the land in summer which has a cooling effect, and cools down slower than the land in winter, having a warming effect. This gives the UK a fairly mild mean temperature of +10oC (thank goodness!). Central Canada and Russia are too far from the sea to feel this moderating effect, and therefore have much more extreme temperatures.

To demonstrate this point, let’s compare the winter temperatures of London and Calgary which are both at 51oN, i.e., the same distance from the equator. London, as I’m sure you know, sits on the Thames estuary where it meets the North Sea, which will be quite mild in winter. On the other hand, Calgary is 600 kilometres from the nearest ocean. The coldest ever recorded temperature in London is a chilly -10oC whereas in Calgary, the coldest temperature is a frost bitingly cold -45oC. Yes this  -45oC was a one off, but still the average low temperature for the winter months in Calgary is -12oC, meaning that on average, every December, January and February in Calgary gets colder than London has ever been.

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The works in reverse too, as shown with countries such as France on the right. The north coast is influenced by the next-door and quite mild North Sea, which also influences London. Compare this to the much warmer southern coast which is in contact with the Mediterranean Sea, a very warm body of water. Notice how quickly the average temperature changes when you move away from either coast.

The temperature difference of Calgary with London is partly due to proximity to the ocean, but there are other factors involved too. London is basically at sea level, whereas Calgary sits at 1100m. Looking at the map of France as well, those cold pockets in the south east stand out from the warm temperatures around them. You may have realised that these are the mountains of the Alps and the Massif Central. Let’s see how altitude can affect temperature.

 

Low vs. High

So, close to a warm ocean and close to the equator are the warmest places? Nope, not exactly. Don’t worry I haven’t lied; we just haven’t seen the whole picture yet. Meet Cotopaxi, not only less than one degree from the equator but also within sight of the warm central Pacific Ocean. It is however, covered in snow. How does this work then?

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A snow covered mountain seems like such an ordinary thing yet when you think about it, why are mountain tops cold enough to be covered in snow when the land around them is so      much warmer? It is due to something called the Lapse Rate.

 

 

Remember our friend convection? Well it happens all over the place; air doesn’t just rise at the equator. Quick recap on atmospheric convection:

12The rate at which the air cools is called the lapse rate. Generally, this is about 0.6oC per 100m. What that means, is that for every 100m higher you go, it will get 0.6oC colder. When you consider that Cotopaxi is almost 6000m high, that means the summit of the volcano is roughly 36oC colder than the air at sea level. Quite a change in temperature!

The most striking examples of this from the mean temperature map are the Himalayas, and the Andes mountain range which runs down the west coast of South America. Look back at the mean temperature map at the Himalayas and note how warm next-door neighbour India is, or look at the Andes, and note the warm ocean to the west, and very hot rainforests of Peru and Bolivia to the East.

Putting all this together, let’s consider what we have learnt so far:

  • It is warmer near the equator.
  • Coastal areas are influenced by the temperature of the nearby ocean.
  • Coastal areas have less extreme temperatures than continental areas.
  • The higher you are, the colder it is.

 

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The two plots above show the mean daily temperatures, and the topography of the United States of America. Compare the two, bearing in mind the lapse rate, and notice how the mid-western states are much colder than those around them. Conveniently, this is where the Rocky Mountain Range is located which has many peaks above 4000m. With a lapse rate of 0.6oC for every 100m, how much colder would it be at 4000m that at sea level?

Look even closer and you’ll notice that apart from the very north, almost all of the coldest mean daily temperatures occur where the large mountain ranges are located. Notice also the warm yellow strip poking north in California (south-western most state) that correlates to a deep valley running between two mountain ranges?

Last thing to spot, is that the south east has a warmer mean temperature than the south west. Yes the south east is generally lower than the south west, but there is something else going on here to. The south east coast is on the shore of the Caribbean; a warm shallow sea, compared to the cooler, deeper Pacific Ocean on the west coast. As we saw before, the sea can have a noticeable effect on the temperatures, especially in winter, when the land cools down quickly yet the sea remains warm. Therefore the winters in California get much colder than the winters in Florida, which has a warmer adjacent sea. There is another way in which the sea affects the land, which is the last thing we are going to have a look at.

That just about wraps up altitude, so the last thing to look at is humidity.

Dry vs. Wet

OK, so one last look at the annual mean temperature graph. Until now, we have gone on the assumption that the further you go from the equator, the colder it gets. The equator gets the most intense sun, and therefore should be warmer. Look at areas like the Sahara desert in North Africa and you’ll see there is actually a belt of the warmest mean annual temperatures in the world at 30oN and 30oS.

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The other figure shows the mean cloud cover, or how much of the sky is on average, covered by clouds. Look at the similarities, because they are striking.

Where are the hottest and coldest temperatures? North Africa, North Australia, Saudi Arabia are the hottest, Greenland and Antarctica are the coldest.

Where are the driest places? North Africa, North Australia, Saudi Arabia, central Greenland and Antarctica.

There is a remarkable correlation between cloud cover and mean annual temperature. To understand why, we need to recall the process of convection, and understand a new one called humidity.

Humidity refers to how much water the air is holding. The warmer the air is, the more water it can hold as invisible water vapour, and the colder the air is, the less water it can hold. When the air is “full” of water and cannot hold anymore, it is at 100% humidity, and known as “saturated”.

You will have noticed this in the past but maybe not known that humidity was to blame. Every time you breathe out, you breathe out water vapour. If you don’t believe me, breathe on a window and you’ll see water droplets form on the glass. Normally, you don’t notice this because the air is not saturated and the moisture in your breath stays as invisible water vapour. However when it is really cold outside, the air cannot hold very much water, i.e., it is nearly saturated or full of water. When you add more water vapour to the air, it condenses, and you can see the tiny water droplets hanging in the air.

The same happens in the atmosphere; as air rises from convection, it cools and suddenly cannot hold as much water vapour. Any excess water vapour then condenses to form clouds. The air above the clouds has therefore lost part of its water content, and is drier than before.

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Remember when I said that atmospheric circulation is actually more complicated? Well we’re going to understand a little more about it now, but don’t worry, we’re almost done!

True to convection, the equator being where the most intense solar heating occurs, this is the area where most air begins to rise into the atmosphere as you can see on the left. As it rises, it cools and cannot hold as much water vapour; hence it condenses and forms clouds. Remember the cloud picture from before? There is a nice strip across the equator of high percentage cloud cover to confirm this. Now this cloud has an interesting effect, as it actually cools the surface below, since it keeps it in shade. It feels hot though; that sort of horrible, sweaty, muggy heat that you associate with rainforests and tropical countries, which is due to the humid, saturated air that is very hot, and therefore is holding lots of water. The high water content is what makes it feel very muggy.

 

 

When the air that rose at the equator descends which is typically at 30oN and 30oS, as it has lost some of its water it is much drier, and therefore clouds are much less common in these areas. This allows the sun, although it is less intense than at the equator, to burn down without any clouds blocking it. Very hot, dry air at the ground without clouds above to provide much rain gives us deserts, and where are the biggest deserts? All 30oN or 30oS of the equator, where the hottest mean annual temperatures are.

If you look at the boundary of the Ferrel and Polar Cells in the picture above, you’ll see that there is another area of rising air which, if you follow the arrows, descends over the North and South Poles. Using what we know from the deserts nearer the equator about what happens when air descends, this is very dry air that is arriving at the poles. However rather than allowing the sun to burn down without any cloud blocking it, since the poles face away from the sun and therefore get very little sunlight anyway, it actually allows heat to escape. View clouds as like a moderator; when it is hot they cool things down by blocking direct sunlight, and when it is cold they keep the heat in like a blanket.

Think of a frosty winter morning. The sky is almost always clear right? If there were any clouds over head during the night, they keep the ground warm and frost doesn’t form. If there are no clouds overnight, heat from the ground can escape so that it is cold enough for frost.

On a global scale then, we have bands of relatively humid and cloudy weather where the air rises, and bands of very dry and cloudless weather where the air, having cooled so that it is denser than the air below, sinks back to surface level. Antarctica is located at the end of one of these “Polar Cells”, where the air is very dry.

Conclusion: Antarctica vs. The Arctic

So let’s review:

  • The further from the equator you go, the colder it gets.
  • The further from the ocean you go, the more extreme the temperatures get.
  • The higher you go, the colder it gets.
  • The drier it gets, the more extreme the temperatures get

Both the Arctic and the Antarctic experience large periods of the year when, due to the tilt of the Earth, they face away from the sun and experience total darkness for months. This is key, as both are as far as each other from the heat source at the equator, and receive the same amount of sunlight each year, which continent gets colder in its winter, and stays cold in summer?

 

Factor The Arctic The Antarctic Which is colder?
How far from the equator? Centred on the geographical North Pole, as far north as you can go Centred on the geographical South Pole, as far south as you can go Draw
Influence from land/sea? The Arctic is not land; it is floating ice on the Arctic Ocean which grows in winter and shrinks in summer. The ocean, although very cold, retains some heat without the sun in winter. Large continent with huge masses of ice on top of it. Has a coast but the centre of the continent is hundreds of miles from any ocean, especially as the sea ice in winter grows up to 400km away and doubles the size of the continent.. No additional warmth from the ocean, loses heat very quickly without the sun. Antarctica
What is the altitude? Virtually sea level, the sea ice doesn’t rise more than a few feet above sea level. Elevation at the North Pole is 2 metres of ice. On average, is the highest continent. Elevation at the South Pole is 3000m of solid vertical ice, sitting on bedrock 100m thick. Antarctica
How humid is it? Air typically descends and therefore is dry, although the surrounding Arctic Ocean does provide some moisture in the air. Air typically descends and therefore is dry. Due to the higher elevation and distance from ocean, this air is very dry indeed. Antarctica

 

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We know that Antarctica is the coldest continent, and hopefully now, we know why it is the coldest. For final confirmation, look at Greenland. Despite being in the Arctic Ocean and very far north, it has many of the characteristics of Antarctica such as it is ice on top of land not sea, and that the ice reaches a very high elevation.

As with everything in meteorology, there are always more factors to consider. For further influences on the temperatures or overall climate of Antarctica, consider looking up “The Albedo Effect”, and “The Polar Vortex”.