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Ripples in sand: <a href="">Markles55</a>, and in snow: <a href="">Clear Inner Vision</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Ripples in sand: Markles55, and in snow: Clear Inner Vision, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

No, the North Country's not the coldest place on earth

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Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the hottest and coldest places on earth. Death Valley is no longer the hottest. Libya takes (or bakes) the cake these days. The lowest, as you would expect, is in Antarctica. How cold? You don't want to know.

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Martha Foley: What is the hottest place on Earth? Is it Death Valley, like I think it is?

Curt Stager: Not anymore.

MF: Did it used to be?

CS: Yes, for a while it held the world record. Now it's the North American record. So far the record has been shifting between Australia and Iran for the hottest ground temperatures. You could fry an egg there. Basically it's in the high 150s Fahrenheit on-the-ground temperatures. Queensland, Australia was the 2003 record, and the next two years it was in the Lute Desert in Iran, which is not only really hot but really dry. People there say there aren't even bacteria living there, in the soil.

MF: How about coldest? Is NASA also tracking day by day the coldest place on the planet?

CS: Yeah. Probably wouldn't be too surprising that Antarctica is the place. That would be Vostok, Antarctica with the record low temperature. In 1983 the lowest measured was -129 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty good. In North America it's Snag, Yukon and that's -81.

MF: I've experienced -50 in St. Lawrence County, New York.

CS: Yeah, that's amazing. It was 1979 Adirondack record. In Old Forge and areas like that I think -52 was the lowest.

MF: I have to say that cars do still start at that temperature, if you're really, really lucky.

CS: But you don't want to lick the door handle.

MF: No. It was very, very cold. So if Antarctica is the coldest, why is the North Pole, the opposite pole, not the second coldest?

CS: It seems kind of funny. They are both snowy and ice-covered and stuff. It's a pretty dramatic difference. Antarctica is way, way colder. The second coldest measurements are in Russia and Canada and that's like -90,-80, which is cold, but nothing compared to -129.

MF: So how come they are colder than the North Pole?

CS: It actually has to do with geography. If you look at a map of Antarctica it has nothing but ocean and air around it, strong ocean and air currents isolating it from the rest of the world. If you go up to the north it's got land and ocean. The wind belts and the ocean currents are disrupted by all this and it's more chaotic and you get pockets of warm air coming up.

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