The researchers think the air gets stuck on its way down the dome and toward the coast of the continent when atmospheric patterns conspire to "try to push the air back uphill," Scambos said.
Interestingly, the coldest temperatures measured in these pockets were all within a degree or two of each other, suggesting a potential floor to just how low the temperature can go.
"It's surprising that all of those places would have so similar a record," Scambos said.
The similarity could be explained in a few ways, he said: Thin clouds that form in the Earth's stratosphere (the layer of the atmosphere above the one humans live in and in which most weather occurs) could be limiting how much heat the air is able to radiate away into space. Or it could be that the weather systems that block the air only last for so long, among other possibilities. [Video: Coldest Place on Earth Found]
Scambos and his team are planning to use Landsat 8's capabilities to examine the surface with a higher resolution than previous satellites to better understand the cold pockets and to nail down more accurately the exact temperatures reached in them.
No official record
The temperatures won't make it into the official record books though, since the World Meteorological Organization recognizes only temperatures made a couple of meters above the surface. The long-standing record for the coldest temperature by that measure was, of course, also in Antarctica, at the Vostok Research Station, where it reached minus 128.6 F (minus 89.2 C) in July 1983.
However, Scambos is certain that if one could measure the air temperature at the proper height in these cold pockets — which would be hard because a mercury thermometer wouldn't work in such extremes, and an alcohol thermometer would be hard pressed — that they'd have Vostok beat.
"I'm confident the pockets are the coldest places on Earth," Scambos said. "I wouldn't be here if I wasn't pretty sure we were colder than Vostok."
Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.
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