Launching a weather balloon.
Launching a weather balloon (ozone sonde). (Photo: Grant Dixon)

Students will discover that Antarctica is the coldest and driest place on the earth, why this is so, and why climate data collected there is critical in helping us forecast climate change.

The lowest temperatures recorded in nature have been at the Russian Vostok station. On 21 July 1983, Vostok's temperature dropped to minus 89.2 degrees C. Antarctica is the driest continent, with the amount of moisture received by the polar plateau comparable to that falling on the world's hot deserts. It is also the windiest and highest continent. Climate data measured at Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations is critical to computer climate models which are being used to help forecast climate change.

  • Using the climate chart [PDF] or the Bureau of Meteorology's averages for Antarctic sites, students can explore why temperatures are lower at higher latitudes, how seasonal differences affect climate and how altitude and distance from the sea affect climate. (Note that the three Australian Antarctic stations are on the coast, which means their weather is not a true representation of the continent as a whole, being much milder due to the influence of the sea.)
  • Ask students to locate the places from the climate chart [PDF] on maps of Antarctica and Australia:
    • What can you learn by comparing weather data for these and other places? Begin by finding the top three cities or Antarctic or sub-Antarctic stations in these categories:
      • greatest average rainfall
      • lowest average rainfall
      • hottest average annual temperature
      • greatest range between average high and low temperatures
      • coldest average temperature
      • greatest average wind speed
      • largest wind gust
    • What, if anything, do each of these places have in common?
    • What don't they have in common?
    • What does that tell you about how location (latitude and proximity to the coast) and altitude help shape a region's climate?
  • Select half a dozen places in Australia and Antarctica (e.g. Sydney, Ayres Rock, Mawson, South Pole and Macquarie Island). Ask students to draw a climate graph showing their monthly average temperatures (maximum and minimum), rainfall, wind speed and sunshine. Summarise the climate of each of these places, including the latitude, altitude and distance from the sea. They can then plot the data on a map showing Australia and Antarctica (one category of climate data per map).
  • What do students notice about the sunlight hours at each place in June? How does this differ from December? Why?
  • Research the weather for this year (or this month, or today) at one of the Antarctic stations and compare it with the average. Do the same for your city/town. Discuss the reasons for any differences.
  • Ask students to gather and record weather data for other places in the world, including other Antarctic stations. You may wish to focus the research on one or more of these factors - temperature, rainfall, wind or hours of sunlight. There is information about the climate of overseas places on the world climate website. The Bureau of Meteorology has a listing of extreme temperatures for many sites, i.e. the average maximum and minimum temperature and the highest and lowest maximum and minimum recorded for each day of the year for the Antarctic stations, Macquarie Island and most Australian cities and towns.
  • Students can measure the temperature in different parts of the refrigerator and freezer. How do these compare with temperatures in Antarctica?

See Clothing for activities on clothing and protection from the cold.

This page was last modified on July 1, 2014.