For many people, the coldest spot in the Arctic is at the North Pole in winter, as it is the most point on Earth from the sun at that stage. In fact, the coldest point is in the middle of the mainland, where there is a dry, cold continental climate. Until yesterday, the two Russian towns of Verkhoyansk and Oimjakon in the Republic of Sacha had shared the official cold record. However, researchers have now discovered and confirmed a new record holder: the Klinck station in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet.
The measured temperature recorded by an automatic weather station on December 22,1991 at 3’105 metres above sea level was -69.6°C, as the involved research group writes in its paper. This was 0.8°C below the previous record of -67.8°C recorded in 1892 in Verkhoyansk and 1933 in Oimjakon. The record has been officially recognized by the WMO, the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. “In the era of climate change, much attention focuses on new heat records,” explains WMO General Secretary Professor Petteri Taalas. “This newly recognized cold record is an important reminder about the stark contrasts that exist on this planet.” By way of comparison, the lowest recorded temperature in Switzerland was recorded on January 12, 1987 in La Brévine with -42.5°C, in Germany on February 12, 1929 in Wolznach in Bavaria with -37.8°C and in Austria at the Hohe Sonnblick in Salzburg with -37.4°C.
The weather station that recorded this low temperature was part of a measurement network that had been operated by the University of Wisconsin in Greenland in the early 1990s. It was not until 1994 that the stations were brought back, retested and then used in Antarctica. But only a climate historian came back to the data measured at the time and informed the WMO about the possibility of a new record. In order to verify the data, the researchers who took part in the project at the time had to be tracked down and the data re-analyzed and evaluated. Above all, it had to be determined whether the measurements and calibrations of the probes had been carried out correctly at that time.
“On Greenland, all of the sites were installed by snowmobile. So the Automatic Weather Station had to be packed to survive a traverse over very rough snow surfaces.”Dr. Gerhard Weidner, University of Wisconsin
The data was then checked by the WMO and published in its quarterly edition in the prestigious journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. Dr. Georg Weidner, who developed the stations at the time and is now the first author of the study, says of the technical aspects: “On Greenland, all of the sites were installed by snowmobile. So the Automatic Weather Station had to be packed to survive a traverse over very rough snow surfaces. Years of packing experience in Antarctica helped us keep our Automatic Weather Station safe and snug on the sleds being pulled by the snowmobiles.”
The fact that even after 30 years the data and the conditions existing on the day of measurement could be reconstructed and analyzed show how precisely and dilligent work had been conducted and data recorded. However, a comparison of today’s data wiht earlier data is only possible because the measurement conditions have been standardized, also in 1892 and 1933, when the previous records had been measured. “It is testimony to the dedication of climate scientists and weather historians that we are now able to investigate many of these older records and secure a better global understanding of not only current, but also historical, climate extremes,” explains the WMO Secretary General. However, the cold record cannot hide the fact that Greenland has been getting warmer and warmer since that 22nd December and that the ice sheet has lost enormous amounts of ice since then. The now denser measurement networks and better satellite coverage confirm this trend.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
Link to the study: Weidner et al (2020) Q J R Met Soc 1-9WMO evaluation of northern hemispheric coldest temperature: ‘69.6 °C at Klinck, Greenland, 22 December 1991, https://doi.org/10.1002/qj.3901
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