BOULDER, COLORADO-The coldest place on Earth has been measured by satellite to be a bitter minus 93.2 Celsius (-135.8F). As one might expect, it is in the heart of Antarctica, and was recorded on 10 August, 2010. Researchers say it is a preliminary figure, and as they refine data from various space-borne thermal sensors it is quite likely they will determine an even colder figure by a degree or so.

The previous record low of minus 89.2C was also measured in Antarctica. This occurred at the Russian Vostok base on 21 July, 1983. It should be stated this was an air temperature taken a couple of metres above the surface, and the satellite figure is the “skin” temperature of the ice surface itself. But the corresponding air temperature would almost certainly beat the Vostok mark. “These very low temperatures are hard to imagine, I know,” said Ted Scambos from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

“The way I like to put it is that it’s almost as cold below freezing as boiling water is above freezing. The new low is a good 50 degrees colder than temperatures in Alaska or Siberia, and about 30 degrees colder than the summit of Greenland. “It makes the cold snap being experienced in some places in North America right now seem very tame by comparison,” he told BBC News. Dr Scambos was speaking here in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

He and colleagues have been examining the data records from polar orbiting satellites stretching back some 30 years. They find the coldest moments in Antarctica occur in the dark winter months at high elevations, where the extremely dry and clear air allows heat to be radiated very efficiently out into space.