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penguins in snow storm

Antarctica: the coldest place on Earth

The main reason why Antarctica is colder than the Arctic is that Antarctica is a continent surrounded by an ocean. The Arctic is an ocean almost completely surrounded by continents and Greenland. The Arctic's ice is relatively thin compared with Antarctica and it has water —not land— under it. While the water is not warm, it usually stays around 30° F, which is often significantly warmer than the air above the ice. Some of this heat makes its way through the ice to the air moderating temperatures somewhat. By contrast, Antarctic has a higher average elevation that any other continent on Earth, and it is covered by a few thousand feet of ice. All the snow and ice covering the continent reflects most of the sun’s light and makes Antarctica the coldest place on Earth. (Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)


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