Give Now  »

Noon Edition

Which Pole Is Colder?

Today's science quiz question: Which pole is colder, the north or south?

The correct answer is the South Pole. The average yearly temperature there is minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, while at the North Pole, it's a balmy zero.

Both poles have six months of continuous darkness each year, and even when the sun shines, it never rises more than 23.5 degrees above the horizon. Even then, all that white snow ends up reflecting most of that heat rather than absorbing it.

The difference is that the North Pole is located on a relatively thin sheet of sea ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean; all that water has a regulating effect on the air above it, cooling it down in the summer and warming it up in the winter. This causes the sea ice to grow and shrink depending on the season, which, in turn, affects the air temperature at the pole itself.

In contrast, the South Pole is located on top of several thousand feet of thick ice, which sit on top of the continent of Antarctica, so the ice never gets a chance to melt. Plus, Antarctica is the highest continent on earth, and the South Pole is a whopping mile and a half above sea level, which also accounts for the colder temperatures.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science