The South Pole Station, sitting on ice 2 miles thick. Photo credit:NASA/GSFC

What kind of weather does Antarctica have?

Antarctica is centered at the Earth's south pole, and so receives very little sunlight. Much of the sunlight it does receive is reflected back to outer space since most of the continent is covered with snow and ice, which further cools the continent.

As a result, Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. It also "manufactures" cold air masses, which are continuously flowing off the Antarctic ice cap, sometimes producing winds in excess of 100 mph. All of this cold air leaving Antarctica must be replaced, however, and so warm air flows from the relatively warmer ocean waters surrounding the continent over the ice cap, warming it and depositing new snow.

As snow continues to fall on the continent over the years, the ice cap slowly flows toward the sea, creating ice shelves that ring the continent. These ice shelves last so long that the are individually named, but eventually they must break off and float out to sea, so that they can be replaced by the newer ice flowing from the continent's interior.

Because the ice shelves last for centuries, it is not really known how exactly long they typically last before finally breaking off.
Interesting facts:
Antarctica holds the record for the coldest temperature ever observed on Earth: at Vostok, on July 21, 1983, with -129 degrees F (-89.4 degrees C). December 1999 was the coldest December ever recorded at the South Pole with an average monthly temperature of -26 degrees F (-32 degrees C).
(page last updated 1/10/2011)
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