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Which Pole is Colder: North or South?

by Jaime McLeod

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All stories of Santa Claus and his cheery toy-making elves aside, the North Pole is a brutally cold, inhospitable place that has claimed the lives of countless explorers who attempted to venture there.

Winter temperatures at the North Pole can range from about -45° F to -15° F, with the average temperature coming in at -30° F. The average summertime temperature is a balmy 32° F, warm enough for its famed ice floes to begin melting (salt water has a lower freezing temperature than fresh water, causing it to melt at or below freezing).

As punishing as those temperatures may be, though, the North Pole actually has nothing on its southern counterpart at the other end of the globe. With an average winter temperature of -79° F, the South Pole is a great deal colder than the North Pole. The record low temperature at the South Pole is −117° F, recorded on June 23, 1982, while the record high is only 7.5° F. In general, temperatures at the South Pole average 30° lower than the North Pole.

So why is the Southern tip of the Earth so much colder than the Northern tip? The answer lies in the geography of each location. While the North Pole is, by definition, located at sea level — there is no solid land at the North Pole, only a series of icy formations in winter — the South Pole sits 9,000 feet above sea level. Higher elevations are colder than locations at low altitudes, because seawater acts as an insulator, holding in heat from the sun and warming the air around it. Because the North Pole is nothing but seawater, it is able to retain heat more efficiently than the high-and-dry South Pole.

What may be surprising, though, is that the coldest place on Earth isn’t found at either of the poles. The coldest temperature ever recorded, anywhere on the planet, was -128.5° F at Vostok, Antarctica, on July 21st, 1983. Vostok is a Russian Research Station about 800 miles from the geographic South Pole. Located 11,444 feet above sea level, Vostok is higher than the South Pole, and colder on average, at -67.4° F, than the South Pole’s annual average of -56.4° F.

14 Responses

  1. Great news! Never been to North nor South Pole, it’s very interesting places to visit. Burrrrrr …🌎🌞

    by Florina on Jan 21, 2016 at 9:42 am Reply

  2. Great news! I’ve never been to North nor South Pole. It’s very interesting to visit someday!

    by Florina on Jan 21, 2016 at 9:32 am Reply

  3. Thanks

    by Randomly on May 13, 2015 at 7:25 pm Reply

  4. .

    by Randomly on May 13, 2015 at 7:25 pm Reply

  5. Great article. Concise and informative. My two sixth grade grandsons knew the answer, but were interested to learn the reason. Thank you.

    by Christine on Nov 29, 2014 at 5:12 pm Reply

  6. I think I’ll stay in Kentucky

    by Wendy on Oct 11, 2013 at 10:22 am Reply

  7. The south pole, at the Amundsen-Scott Station, recorded a new record high temperature on Christmas Eve Day, 12/24/2011. The Temp reached 9 degrees F above zero !!!

    by Paul on Dec 27, 2011 at 4:59 am Reply

  8. Excellent! I too guessed wrong! Thank you also!

    by Sandy on Feb 11, 2011 at 6:44 pm Reply

  9. I am thankful that it doesn’t get that cold here, although it sure feels like it sometimes. As one gets older they tolerate the cold less and less. I still love the snow and a good cold day when I can stay in and watch from a window with cafe au latte in hand!

    by Joycee on Dec 11, 2010 at 7:56 am Reply

  10. It just goes to show that no matter how bad you may THINK your situation is – IT CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE!
    Merry “Christ”mas to all and may each of you have a joyous, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

    by Hillbilly Gardener on Dec 10, 2010 at 6:02 am Reply

  11. I’m sure glad that it does’nt get that cold in my neck of the woods BRRRRRR!

    by cindy on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm Reply

  12. Very coool information! I wouldn’t have guessed, actually I did guess wrong!

    Thanks for the info and look forward to the next. Kids liked it too!

    SLDriver

    by Saundra on Dec 8, 2010 at 3:55 pm Reply

  13. Here I am, in Volusia County, FL, feeling sorry for myself (and, more understandably, my plants), because we are supposed to have 20°F night temperatures next week! Old Florida houses, though, are far from airtight.

    by Frutero on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm Reply

  14. Now that’s what i call cold. It’s so amazing the information one learns on a daily basis. Keep up the good work!

    by JONI on Dec 8, 2010 at 10:29 am Reply

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