Which Pole Is Colder?
Really cold, or really, really cold?
Both the Arctic (North Pole) and the Antarctic (South Pole) are very cold because they get very little direct sunlight. The Sun is always low on the horizon, even in the middle of summer. In winter, the Sun is so far below the horizon that it doesn't come up at all for months at a time. So the days are just like the nights — cold and dark.
Even though the North Pole and South Pole are "polar opposites," they both get the same amount of sunlight. But the South Pole is a lot colder than the North Pole. Why? Well, the poles are polar opposites in other ways too.
The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land. The Antarctic is land surrounded by ocean.
The ocean under the Arctic ice is cold, but still warmer than the ice in the glacier Antarctic! So the ocean warms the air a bit.
Antarctica is dry — and high. Under all of Antarctica's ice and snow is land, not ocean. And it has many mountains. The height of the surface is called "elevation" — much of Antarctica's mountains are very tall and rise super high above sea level. So, the Antarctic is at a much higher elevation than the Arctic. The average elevation of Antarctica is about 7,500 feet (2.3 kilometers). And the higher you go, the colder it gets. The Antarctic ice is super thick — up to 3 miles thick! The Antarctic ice forms a huge plateau that sits high above sea level.
The main reason that the South Pole is so much colder than the North Pole is because of the strength of the winds blowing around the poles. Antarctic winds are very strong and stop warmer air from mixing with the polar air. This also happens in the Arctic, but winds surrounding the North Pole are not as strong. Because of this, warmer air from the warmer mid-latitudes is able to mix with polar air, making the Arctic warmer.
Check out the table below to see just how much colder the South Pole is than the North Pole! Brrrrr!
|Time of year||Average (mean) temperature|
|North Pole||South Pole|
|Summer||32° F (0° C)||−18° F (−28.2° C)|
|Winter||−40° F (−40° C)||−76° F (−60° C)|