Shop Windows to the Universe

Earth Science Rocks! Select one of our four cool NESTA t-shirts from our online store, and express your love of Earth and space science!
A computer drawing of Antarctica. The Catabatic winds are shown at the top of the drawing.
Click on image for full size
Found in Wikipedia Commons - Source is Hannes Grobe at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany

Antarctic Weather

Antarctica, home to the South Pole, is very cold! In fact, Antarctica is colder than even the Arctic! Temperatures as low as -129 degrees F (-89 degrees C) have been recorded, and in the interior, near the South Pole, the average temperature is only -58 degrees F (-50 degrees C). Even in the summer the temperature rarely goes above -22 degrees F (-30 degrees C).

There are a few reasons why Antarctica is so cold. First, Antarctica is a land mass, so a lot of the continent’s land does not have the benefit of being surrounded by ocean water (which tends to warm things up). Second, the average elevation in Antarctica is very high—about 8500 feet— which means lower surface temperatures. Third, Antarctica absorbs very little solar radiation throughout the year. During winter (March 22 throughout September 22) the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all because of the Earth’s tilt, so the whole continent stays dark!

Antarctica has also been called the windiest continent on Earth! There is a constant stream of cold air moving from the interior toward the continent’s coast. Because the air in these currents is so cold, it is very dense, and the winds tend to flow along the surface of the land. In some places, where land features act as a funnel, the wind grows even stronger and is called a Catabatic wind, which can be very strong. One of these places, Cape Dennison, is one of the windiest places on Earth—the average windspeed is more than 50 mph, and winds as high as 200 mph have been recorded.

With all the ice and snow covering it, many people assume that Antarctica gets a lot of precipitation, but actually the opposite is true. The annual precipitation in Antarctica is so low that Antarctica is really a desert, and in fact the interior parts of the continent get less precipitation every year than the Sahara dessert!

What does all this mean for us? It means that Antarctica may be the most inhospitable place on Earth for humans, and that it’s been a very difficult place to explore and study!

Last modified July 9, 2007 by Jennifer Bergman.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Arctic: Earth's North Polar Region

North of the Arctic Circle (at 66.5°N latitude) you will find the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. You will find the geographic North Pole and the magnetic...more

What Causes the Seasons?

Let's get rid of some common misconceptions about the seasons. The Earth's orbit is in the shape of an ellipse, so that sometimes the Earth is a little bit closer to the Sun than at other times. Is this...more

Wind

Wind is moving air. Warm air rises, and cool air comes in to take its place. This movement creates different pressures in the atmosphere which creates the winds around the globe. Since the Earth spins,...more

Exploration of the Poles of the Earth

Polar exploration includes the physical exploration of the Arctic and the Antarctica. The Arctic is the area around the Earth's north pole and includes parts of Canada, Greenland, Russia, the United States...more

The Polar Atmosphere

Phenomena in the Polar Atmosphere There are some unique phenomena that happen in the atmosphere that is above the Earth's polar regions. Read on to discover more about some of the unique parts of the polar...more

The Antarctic Region

What Will You Find There? South of the Antarctic Circle (at 66.5°S latitude) you will find the continent of Antarctica surrounded by the Southern Ocean, the geographic South Pole and the magnetic South...more

Antarctica

Antarctica is unique. It is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. The land is barren and mostly covered with a thick sheet of ice. Antarctica is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF