Traveling to the South Pole is gaining traction among ever-hungry globe trotters that would love to bury their proverbial flag into every landmass on the planet. Bring a pickaxe though, as the coldest region of the Earth harnesses at least a mile thick layer of ice and lashes at the skin with frostbite. Don’t be taken by surprise, as summer in Antarctica is not to be trifled with. Admittedly, it can be quite bearable near the coast, but the farther inland you go, the colder and more inhospitable it gets.
A trip to Antarctica can be a once in a lifetime kind of experience that will elevate your knowledge of our world to some new heights. As the summer descends on the land perpetually locked in the state of deep freeze, the sea ice will break and make way for any incoming expedition and reveal the most breathtaking secrets of the opposite pole. For the denizens of the northern hemisphere, the word ‘summer’ often evokes images of sprawling sandy beaches, warm, vibrant air, and excessive cold beverage consumption. While it may seem to be a fact of life for some, the situation down south – and by this, we mean the southernmost continent of the Earth, not the Deep South like in Alabama – is a whole different story.
When is the Summer in Antarctica?
Since Antarctica is located at the South Pole, it’s quite expected for it to have a summer season from October to February.
This is the most common definition of the Antarctic summer, albeit a generous one. October is still inhumanely cold with temperatures far below the freezing point. November is the first month of the year when the weather becomes even remotely acceptable by most tourists’ standards. Still, it would be highly prudent to pack for extreme cold and endless days. Yes, Antarctica’s unique position on the globe means continuous days during the summer and the emergence of a famous phenomenon known as the Midnight Sun.
Average Summer Temperatures in Antarctica
Very specific weather conditions of Antarctica dictate its rather unusual climate and define what we call the Antarctic summer.
Considering the aforementioned layer of ice covering the continent, it’s understandable why Antarctica has a higher altitude to begin with. In fact, there is so much ice here that it comprises 70% of all fresh water on Earth. Ultimately, this is the main reason why it’s much colder than the Arctic – the average altitude is much higher, and it is approximately 8,200 feet. One of the other important factors as for why this is the coldest place on earth is the abundance of ice sheet reflecting most of the heat back into space.
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The only time when Antarctica absorbs any heat whatsoever is during the summer. The sunlight heats lower layers of the atmosphere, increasing their temperature, and slowing down katabatic winds that come in crashing from the slopes bringing cold, high-density air with them. Without the wind, oceans can then bring warm air and thus the summer commences.
Temperatures by Month
Depending on where you’re measuring the temperature, summer averages vary significantly. The higher the altitude and deeper inland you go, that is to say, farther from the oceans, average temperatures drop by more than a small amount. For example, Vostok Station, located in Princess Elizabeth Land, Antarctica, is the coldest place on Earth and it’s where the lowest temperature of −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F) has been recorded.
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Before getting into specific months, it’s important to say that the annual temperature ranges from −10 °C (14 °F) to −60 °C (−76 °F). This figure also depends on where the measuring is performed, with the former number being more characteristic of coastlines, while the latter can be found inland.
For the purposes of obtaining average temperatures of the Antarctic, we will provide you with the measurements made at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station which is nested at the very heart of the continent.
- October. As we’ve already mentioned, October can hardly be considered a summer month, but for the purposes of the Antarctic continent, it is. The highest temperature in October is going to be -48 °C (-54 °F), and the lowest usually ranges from -54 °C (-65 °F). In Vostok, lowest October temperatures are -63 degrees Celsius. It’s so cold here that you’d never know it’s summer if not for the perpetual sunny days during the summer. Tourists still largely avoid this month as absolutely worthless for traveling to Antarctica unless you want to join the sheet as a block of ice yourself.
- November. Even though Antarctica only has two seasons, November is what we’d call spring in the northern hemisphere. More and more animals are slowly making an appearance, and penguins are laying eggs. At this point, average temperatures range from -40 °C (-40 °F) to -36 °C (-33 °F). The moderate climate of the coastline will provide temperatures of about -3 °C (-26 °F) at most, which is where most of the visitors to the continent will remain during on their journey in November. At Vostok, -50 °C (-58 °F) is the worst possible scenario.
- December. Early summer has arrived in the wastes of the never-ending desert of Antarctica. The penguin eggs laid just a month before start hatching now. Seal pups are roaming the coastline in search for food and there’s finally a decent increase in temperature. Days are becoming longer, reaching their maximum capacity soon. As far as the temperature is concerned, the lowest average measures about -29 °C (-20 °F), a marked improvement over the last month. However, it’s still not going to get warmer than the average maximum of -26 °C (-15 °F), so you might still want to pass up on getting into swimwear. Vostok will retain its glacial temperatures so it’s not even worth mentioning!
- January. Finally, the warmest month of the year is here. It feels as if the summer has begun, and it’s at this time that you’ll be able to see the most fauna in the far south of the world. While temperatures at Amundsen-Scott base remain largely the same and don’t change between the months of December and January, that is, they remain in the range of -29 °C (-20 °F) to -26 °C (-15 °F), the situation in towns is much different. Esperanza is a Chilean town located at the warmest, southernmost part of Antarctica. January temperatures in this town of 55 go from -1 °C (30 °F) to 4 °C (39 °F). The Antarctic weather here is almost reminiscent of northern hemisphere winters!
- February. The warmth is already slowly decaying, receding into lower and lower ends of the thermometer. Adult penguins are already molting and chicks get their first feathers to protect them from the incoming drop in temperature. The average low measures -43 °C (-45 °F), a temperature already lower than that of November. The highest it can go is -38 °C (-36 °F). At Esperanza, the temperature will desperately hold on to its 4 degrees Celsius, while the Australian Casey Station will mark precisely 0 degrees Celsius or 32 °F.
- March. While most meteorologists don’t consider March to be part of the summer, and for a good reason considering its lowest average temperature often hits the -57 °C (-71 °F) point, it’s still the most popular time to travel to Antarctica. The reason why this happens is that sea ice has finished melting by the early March, opening up more space for ships to navigate. You’ll be able to explore the farthest corners of the South Pole and also observe some of the most beautiful whale species as they emerge from the oceans. There’s a decent chance for you to spot minke whales, Orcas, humpback and southern right whales.
There is very little to no precipitation during the summer, or the entire year in the Antarctic for that matter. On an annual basis, the southernmost continent gets only 2 inches of snow which rarely melts since the temperature never gets high enough.
Instead, all that snow becomes just another layer of icy shield covering the landmass below. As for the rain, there’s none because the air is simply too cold. Without heat, there’s no humidity and consequently no rain. It’s so cold that even snow barely ever falls. Most of the snow in inland Antarctica just gets blown in there from the outer area.
There’s no more doubt about it – we’re living in a period of abrupt, negative changes to the world we live in. Climate change is disrupting the fragile bonds that hold our lives together and it is most noticeable at our poles.
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Observing an ice shelf as it melts and deteriorates is the proof enough of global warming taking place. The displacement of ice shelves due to warmer oceans is already causing problems which might culminate sometime in the near future. Increasing sea level and decreased ocean salinity will have a direct impact on our and the lives of our children if something isn’t done soon.
The summer in Antarctica is a stark reminder of our impact on our dear planet. Let your trip there be an educational one, hopefully giving you a broader perspective on how we’re redefining the world around us.