The varying climates of Antarctica

In the previous post I made a plot of Antarctica and compared it to the size of Europe. I made the throwaway point that it was unreasonable to imagine Antarctica as being characterized with one climatic zone. It is not all the "coldest and windiest place" on Earth.

I thought a simple example would show what I mean:

I got the mean monthly temperatures at two Antarctic Stations from the NOAA NCDC GCPS MONTHLY STATION data available from IRI/LDEO Climate Data Library.

I chose Adelaide Island and Vostok, and picked monthly data from December 1964 to December 1966.

Adelaide Island and Vostok mean monthy temperature
The mean monthly temperature at Adelaide Island and Vostok station

Adelaide island is on the coast and it astonishingly beautiful. The data I used were collected at the British Antarctic Survey BASE T.

In contrast Vostok station is quite literally an icy waste in the middle of nowhere (* but see below).

This plot shows their relative locations in relation to the South Pole.

The locations of research stations
The locations of Adelaide Island, Vostok, and South Pole

You can see that at Adelaide Island - which is at sea level and coastal - the seasonal cycle is relatively narrow and only about 11°C. Temperatures are above 0°C in the summer.

At Vostok - which is on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and at an altitude of about 3700m - the seasonal cycle is vast. In the Antarctic summer the temperatures are about -30°C, whereas in winter the temperatures fall and it is scarily cold (monthly mean -71.4°C in August 1966!).

If you want to know why Adelaide Island has a relatively small seasonal cycle, whereas Vostok seems to have a squashed "U" shape temperature cycle, then you have to understand something about the basic meteorology of the Antarctic Regions. (As an aside then you would understand why this happens in winter).

In a later post I may say something about how the climate is changing across Antarctica over the last 50-60 years. The spoiler on that is at on the Antarctic Peninsula it has changed a lot  - in the range "4-5°C",and the changes are impacting the ocean system, whereas at Vostok it has not.

* - of course Vostok isn't really in the middle of "nowhere". It is over the vast and hugely significant under ice Lake Vostok, and is the location of the first great Antarctic ice core - the Vostok Ice Core.

 

2 thoughts on “The varying climates of Antarctica

  1. Sheldon

    You can see that the Peninsula temperatures are near or even slightly above zero in the southern summer. I always remember my first trip south when the coldest weather I experienced, around November-December time, was in Brize Norton for the flight out of Oxfordshire … bloody perishing at around -10 °C ...

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