and relates chiefly to the summer months. Hann has determined the mean temperatures of the higher southern latitudes as follows:—
|Mean Temperatures of High Southern Latitudes.|
From lat. 70° S. polewards, J. Hann finds that the southern hemisphere is colder than the northern. Antarctic summers are decidedly cold. The mean annual temperatures experienced have been in the vicinity of 10°, and the minima of an ordinary antarctic winter go down to –40° and below, but so far no minima of the severest Siberian intensity have been noted. The maxima have varied between 35° and 50°.
The temperatures at the South Pole itself furnish an interesting subject for speculation. It is likely that near the South Pole will prove to be the coldest point on the earth’s surface for the year, as the distribution of insolation would imply, and as the conditions of land and ice and snow there would suggest. The lowest winter and summer temperatures in the southern hemisphere will almost certainly be found in the immediate vicinity of the pole. It must not be supposed that the isotherms in the antarctic region run parallel with the latitude lines. They bend polewards and equatorwards at different meridians, although much less so than in the Arctic.
The annual march of temperature in the north polar zone, for which we have the best comparable data, is peculiar in having a much-retarded minimum in February or even in March—the result of the long, cold winter. The temperature rises rapidly towards summer, and reaches a maximum in July. Autumn is warmer than spring.
The continents do not penetrate far enough into the arctic zone to develop a pure continental climate in the highest latitudes. Verkhoyansk, in lat. 67° 6′ N., furnishes an excellent example of an exaggerated continental type for the margin of the zone, with an annual range of 120°. One-third as large a range is found on Novaya Zemlya. Polar climate as a whole has large annual and small diurnal ranges, but sudden changes of wind may cause marked irregular temperature changes within twenty-four hours, especially in winter. The smaller ranges are associated with greater cloudiness, and vice versa. The mean diurnal variability is very small in summer, and reaches its maximum in winter, about 7° in February, according to Mohn.
Pressure and Winds.—Owing to the more symmetrical distribution of land and water in the southern than in the northern polar area, the pressures and winds have a simpler arrangement in the former, and may be first considered. The rapid southward decrease of pressure, which is so marked a feature of the higher latitudes of the southern hemisphere on the isobaric charts of the world, does not continue all the way to the South Pole. Nor do the prevailing westerly winds, constituting the “circumpolar whirl,” which are so well developed over the southern portions of the southern hemisphere oceans, blow all the way home to the South Pole. The steep poleward pressure gradients of these southern oceans end in a trough of low pressure, girdling the earth at about the Antarctic circle. From here the pressure increases again towards the South Pole, where a permanent inner polar anticyclonic area is found, with outflowing winds deflected by the earth’s rotation into easterly and south-easterly directions. These easterly winds have been observed by the recent expeditions which have penetrated far enough south to cross the low-pressure trough. The limits between the prevailing westerlies and the outflowing winds from the pole (“easterlies”) vary with the longitude and migrate with the seasons. The change in passing from one wind system to the other is easily observed. This south polar anticyclone, with its surrounding low-pressure girdle, migrates with the season, the centre apparently shifting polewards in summer and towards the eastern hemisphere in winter. The outflowing winds from the polar anticyclones sweep down across the inland ice. Under certain topographic conditions, descending across mountain ranges, as in the case of the Admiralty Range in Victoria Land, these winds may develop high velocity and take on typical föhn characteristics, raising the temperature to an unusually high degree. Föhn winds are also known on both coasts of Greenland, when a passing cyclonic depression draws the air down from the icy interior. These Greenland föhn winds are important climatic elements, for they blow down warm and dry, raising the temperature even 30° or 40° above the winter mean, and melting the snow.
In the Arctic area the wind systems are less clearly defined and the pressure distribution is much less regular, on account of the irregular distribution of land and water. The isobaric charts published in the report of the Nansen expedition show that the North Atlantic low-pressure area is more or less well developed in all months. Except in June, when it lies over southern Greenland, this tongue-shaped trough of low pressure lies in Davis strait, to the south-west or west of Iceland, and over the Norwegian Sea. In winter it greatly extends its limits farther east into the inner Arctic Ocean, to the north of Russia and Siberia. The Pacific minimum of pressure is found south of Bering Strait and in Alaska. Between these two regions of lower pressure the divide extends from North America to eastern Siberia. This divide has been called by Supan the “Arktische Wind-scheide.” The pressure gradients are steepest in winter. At the pole itself pressure seems to be highest in April and lowest from June to September. The annual range is only about 0.20 in.
The prevailing westerlies, which in the high southern latitudes are so symmetrically developed, are interfered with to such an extent by the varying pressure controls over the northern continents and oceans in summer and winter that they are often hardly recognizable on the wind maps. The isobaric and wind charts show that on the whole the winds blow out from the inner polar basin, especially in winter and spring.
Rain and Snow.—Rainfall on the whole decreases steadily from equator to poles. The amount of precipitation must of necessity be comparatively slight in the polar zones, chiefly because of the small capacity of the air for water vapour at the low temperatures there prevailing; partly also because of the decrease, or absence, of local convectional storms and thunder-showers. Locally, under exceptional conditions, as in the case of the western coast of Norway, the rainfall is a good deal heavier. Even cyclonic storms cannot yield much precipitation. The extended snow and ice fields tend to give an exaggerated idea of the actual amount of precipitation. It must be remembered, however, that evaporation is slow at low temperatures, and melting is not excessive. Hence the polar store of fallen snow is well preserved: interior snowfields, ice sheets and glaciers are produced.
The commonest form of precipitation is naturally snow, the summer limit of which, in the northern hemisphere, is near the Arctic circle, with the exception of Norway. So far as exploration has yet gone into the highest latitudes, rain falls in summer, and it is doubtful whether there are places where all the precipitation falls as snow. The snow of the polar regions is characteristically fine and dry. At low polar temperatures flakes of snow are not found, but precipitation is in the form of ice spicules. The finest glittering ice needles often fill the air, even on clear days, and in calm weather, and gradually descending to the surface, slowly add to the depth of snow on the ground. Dry snow is also blown from the snowfields on windy days, interfering with the transparency of the air.
Humidity, Cloudiness and Fog.—The absolute humidity must be low in polar latitudes, especially in winter, on account of the low temperatures. Relative humidity varies greatly, and very low readings have often been recorded. Cloudiness seems to decrease somewhat towards the inner polar areas, after passing the belt of high cloudiness in the higher latitudes of the temperate zones. In the marine climates of high latitudes the summer, which is the calmest season, has the maximum cloudiness; the winter, with more active wind movement, is clearer. The
- Nature, lxxi. (Jan. 5, 1905), p. 221.