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New Planetary Cold record discovered? Not so Fast!

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:56 PM GMT on December 11, 2013

New Planetary Cold record discovered? Not so Fast!

As Jeff Masters blogged on December 10th satellite data indicates that a temperature of -93.2°C (-135.8°F) had been measured at a site near Dome Argus in Antarctica on August 10, 2010, colder than any land-based measurement from the frozen continent (that being Vostok’s -89.2°C/-128.6°F on July 21, 1983). Unfortunately, many media outlets headlined this as a “new coldest temperature recorded on earth”. This is not the case, however, so far as being an ‘official’ earth record.

Satellite earth skin temperature measurements will never be accepted as ‘official’ weather observations no matter how accurate their data might be. As Vyacheslav Martyanov, the head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition's logistics center, put it in an interview for RIA Novosti (A Russian News Organization):

“It is incorrect to declare a temperature record based on satellite data. AVHRR and MODIS are measuring the so-called ‘luminance temperature’, which does not fully correlate with true meteorological conditions and must be confirmed by observations on the ground.

Air temperature is measured according to standards, at the height of 2 meters above the ground, like they do at meteorological observing stations, therefore recognizing a temperature measured by remote sensing is unrealistic”


This holds true as well for the often cited 70.7°C (159.3°F) “hottest temperature on earth” measured by MODIS in July 2005 at a remote location in the Lut Desert of Iran.

That being said, the MODIS Antarctica figure is probably closer to the truth than the Lut Desert figure since heat radiating off the desert ground in Iran would have naturally related to much hotter figures than what would have been observed had a standard weather shelter been in place at the same location. This would not have been an issue in Antarctica during its winter months. Furthermore, the location is at or near the highest point on Antarctica’s continental dome at some 4000 m (about 13,000’). The nearest weather station to the point where the cold temperature was measured is Dome Argus (also known as Dome A). See map below:



Map of Antarctica illustrating where the satellite measurements were taken in relation to Dome Argus and Vostok. Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the temperature data for Dome Argus for either August 10, 2010 or July 31, 2013 to compare to the satellite data. However, Vostok 600 meters (almost 2000’) lower than Dome Argus and, admittedly far away) did measure -110°F (-78.9°C) on July 30, 2013 and -103°F (-75.0°C) on July 31, 2013. The coldest RAWS site for the day of July 31 was -81.7°C (-115.1°F) at Davis Lab 46 located at 75.51 S, 71.29 E and at just 2354 m (7,700') elevation. One can imagine, therefore, that it most likely was considerably colder at Dome Argus or at the satellite data point on those dates (although not unquestionably given the distance from Vostok and Davis Lab 46). Also, this past summer (2013) was one of the warmest on record for much of Antarctica, especially the dome region. Vostok failed to drop below -80°C for its first time ever (POR (back to 1957) and the same goes for Dome Fuji. This begs the question of just why this little satellite data point seems to have bucked this trend (of an unusually warm winter on the dome) and yet coming up with a temperature so far away from the land site observations!



A photograph of the weather station at Dome Argus (Dome A) taken shortly after its installation in 2005. Photo credited as CHINARE and from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology web site.

Since Dome Argus was established in 2005 the coldest temperature measured there has been ‘just’ -82.5°C (-116.5°F) in July 2005 (although that was for the POR of only 2005-2010). One may assume that one of these days it is almost certain that Dome Argus or one of the other high altitude RAWS stations are going to actually measure a temperature colder than Vostok’s.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Cold

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Nice blog. It might also be worth noting that the handling of this remotely sensed temperature is consistent with wind speed records as well. Extreme winds from tornadoes measured by radar similarly aren't official since they are also not direct measurements.
Interesting that this past year was the first that Vostok failed to reach -80C.
I still think it's a little unbalanced that this Antarctic cold record was reported in the network media, but the record 39°F at Deadhorse, AK last weekend was not.
Quoting 3. Daisyworld:
I still think it's a little unbalanced that this Antarctic cold record was reported in the network media, but the record 39°F at Deadhorse, AK last weekend was not.
Not to mention that this Antarctic cold record, which superseded the official one by just a few degrees, has been a big story (especially in the denialosphere), while a satellite-measured 159.3F temperature in Iran a few years ago--which obviously supersedes the offical record high by 25 or so degrees--barely rated a mention then or now. Seems to me that if one is talked about, the other should be, too.

Source
Quoting 3. Daisyworld:
I still think it's a little unbalanced that this Antarctic cold record was reported in the network media, but the record 39°F at Deadhorse, AK last weekend was not.
There was no record at all,there are DOZENS OF THOUSANDS of much much colder satellite temperatures. Vostok recorded well below -95C in July 1983 when the air.temperature at 2m above the ground was -89.2
This year was historical because the warmest winter ever in Antarctica,without any peak of.cold. Temperatures have constantly being 10 to 50F above.average and fot the first time ever Dome Fuji,Vostok ,Dome A etc were.unable.even to touch -80C inthe whole year. Never ever happened anything like that.Those clowns crooks reporting record warm temperatures as record cold are just paid to spread lies around.
Sorry Chris this blog is full of incorrect data.Dome A is NOT.colder than Vostok in term of winter lowest peaks,i think you are not familiar with the Plateau and the thermal inversions:Dome A clearly beat Vostok in summer but rarely in winter.Than,no mention of the much colder satellite temperatures recorded in several occasions every year.If you want to include ground-ice cap temperatures,than Vostok.still.hold the record with -95.6C.
Quoting 5. maxcrc:
Dome Fuji,Vostok ,Dome A etc were.unable.even to touch -80C inthe whole year. Never ever happened anything like that.


Dome A had temperatures well below -80 °C last winter. The lowest recorded value was -81.7 °C on 30 and 31 July (hourly data, no min and max reported). Temperatures fell to -80 °C and below on four days: 27, 28, 30 and 31 July.
Vostok came at least close to -80 °C on 29 July for which day a minimum of -79.2 °C was reported.

Sources:
Dome A, Vostok
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