Weather | Polar Unbound

Antarctica Climate

Antarctica is the coldest of Earth’s continents—far colder even than its polar opposite, the Arctic. In summer the warmest it can get is nearly 60 °F, while in the winter the temperature can drop to as cold as -128 °F. 

Three primary reasons cause the difference in temperature between the two poles: first of all, much of Antarctica is nearly 10,000 feet above sea level; secondly, the Arctic is almost completely covered by the Arctic Ocean, and the ocean’s relative warmth transfers through the ice, preventing the extreme temperatures of Antarctica from occurring in its northern counterpart; thirdly, the Earth is closer to the sun during an Arctic winter and further from the sun during an Antarctic winter. This orbital difference makes the Antarctic the more extreme of the two poles. With the Earth physically closer to the sun during an Arctic winter, it also makes an Antarctic summer moderately warmer than an Arctic summer.

Beyond its chilly temperatures, the continent is a frozen desert that receives little precipitation. The South Pole itself receives less than four inches of precipitation per year. Precipitation is much more common along the coast, where as much as 48 inches of snow in 48 hours has been recorded. Katabatic winds are also common along the coast. Though mostly moderate, these winds can reach hurricane intensities.

Because of its higher elevation, eastern Antarctica is much colder than the western half of the continent. The mountains prevent weather fronts from penetrating deep into the continent, leaving its interior cold and dry. 

Due to its southern latitude, constant periods of either darkness or sunlight creates highly unusual climates for humans. Sunburn is a problem throughout the year due to the ice reflecting much of the sun’s ultraviolet light.