It's Minus 58 Degrees Here Now, and Getting Colder

Douglas A. McIntyre

As most of the news about climate change now involves the spikes in world temperatures, there are still places where it is not unusual for the readings to be −50°F (−45.5°C), or even much below that. That global warming will move these temperatures higher is almost certain. How long that will take is a matter of debate, both because it is so far south and at such a high elevation.

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, South Pole, Antarctica, posted a temperature of −58°F early Friday. After the sun sets, that temperature will fall, perhaps as low as −70°F. The wind chill factor is −94°F, so it will drop below −100°F after dark.

The location is often called the southernmost place on earth, at least in terms of places where people are. The fact that it is located almost 10,000 feet above sea level enhances the cold weather. The daily mean temperature over the course of the year is −57°F. In June, that figure drops to −75°F. Due to extreme temperatures, no one actually lives in the South Pole indefinitely. Still, there are parts of the world where harsh winters are actually endured by their inhabitants.

While there are arguments that temperatures will not rise soon at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, most do not extend to other areas in Antarctica. The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies says the ice in East Antarctica, not far from the Amundsen-Scott, may have started to melt, but there is disagreement about how serious the trouble is, at least for now. The Yale organization recently wrote, “Research into what’s happening in East Antarctica is still in its early stages. It’s hard to decipher what exactly is taking place on a gigantic continent of ice with just a few decades of satellite data and limited actual measurements of things like snowfall and ocean temperatures.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. government, has a different take. Its scientists say the melting already has begun and is aggressively moving forward. “Antarctica is also surrounded by a vast ocean, and it’s buffered by winds and weather patterns that tend to isolate it from large warm-air intrusions.” However, parts of the area are melting nevertheless, its researchers say. These are the 15 places most vulnerable to sea level rise.

Will the area around the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station start to get warmer? Tonight, at least, it will not.