The temperature in Death Valley was 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, a figure not matched for 91 years. Temperatures cracked 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Oman at about the same time. The news from these places was not just the temperatures but also the effects it has on people’s ability to survive long under these conditions. At the other extreme, temperatures across part of Antarctica fell to nearly 100 degrees below zero, which creates an equally hostile environment for humans.
One important difference between the extremely hot and cold parts of the world is that while hundreds of thousands of people are hit by the hot weather in the United States, North Africa and the Middle East, it is rare that more than a few people are at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where it is 97 degrees below zero today, to be exact.
The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is located at the southernmost place in the world. The air is also extremely cold because the station is located at over 9,000 feet above sea level. Temperatures often drop to 100 degrees below zero. It holds the all-time low temperature in measured history at minus 117.
The only inhabitants at the station are about 50 scientists who cannot go outside much of the time. The station is named after Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott, who reached the South Pole in 1911 and 1912. Scott died nearby in 1912. Amundsen died on a rescue mission near the North Pole in 1928.
In geographic areas with temperatures above 110 degrees, people can die of heatstroke, but extreme cold is even more deadly. As an effort to survive, the human body begins to shut down blood flow to the extremities to maintain the temperature of the core body. The resulting problem is usually frostbite. If the body’s core temperature drops, the eventual result can be death.
By most measures, global warming has begun to raise temperatures in much of Antarctica. Parts of the continent have started to melt. So far, it has not done the same at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The temperature there will be about 100 degrees below zero for the next several days.