Atmosphere, weather, and climate

Part 2

Atmosphere, weather, and climate

Cloud formation as seen from Rothera Research Station
© British Antarctic Survey, Gavin Burns

It is well known that Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth: the lowest surface air temperature ever recorded (-89.2°C) was taken at Vostok Station, East Antarctica. However, there is much more to Antarctica's climate than it simply being cold. It is less widely known that Antarctica is also a polar desert with very low levels of precipitation. The continent's geographical position, size, shape, and relief combine to produce a range of unique weather phenomena; and there are also important regional differences in climate and weather across the continent.

Antarctica also holds one of the keys to unravelling the climatic history of the world. Cores of ice obtained by drilling deep into glaciers and ice sheets contain evidence of what the atmosphere was like at different times in the past; and therefore studies of ice cores (especially cores from Antarctica and Greenland) have contributed greatly to our understanding of how the Earth's climate has changed over long periods of time, and how it may change in the future.

The ozone hole over the South Polar Region represents one of the most serious effects that pollution has had on the atmosphere. Fortunately the problem was identified in time for countries to co-ordinate action to phase out production of the chemicals that caused the damage, and the ozone hole will gradually disappear.

This section describes and explains Antarctica's present weather and climate, discusses the nature of ice core evidence, and looks at recent climate changes. The ozone hole is also examined, mainly from the standpoint of the physical causes of the problem, its effects, and the reasons why the problem is more severe in the high latitude Southern Hemisphere rather than in the north. The resources contained here support A-level studies of weather and climate, climate change, long-term environmental change, and atmospheric pollution.


>> 2:1 Key factors behind Antarctica's climate


British Antarctic SurveyRoyal Geographic SocietyForeign and Commonwealth OfficeBritish Antarctic Territory