Extreme Places on Earth- Will you dare to visit them!
Since its inception, Earth has been in a dynamic state of geological and meteorological activity, resulting in diverse topographies and climatic conditions. Land features such as mountains and valleys, water bodies such as oceans and rivers and altitude affect temperature, air movement and precipitation, which in turn result in erosion, accretion and other processes that affect the topographical profile of a place. The movement of tectonic plates also play their role as these geological and meteorological processes give rise to diverse natural environments around the world.
In this article, we look at some of the harshest and most extreme places & natural environments on Earth. Make sure you are well-trained, well-prepared and under expert guidance if you plan to visit any of these places!
Extreme places on Earth
Hottest temperature recorded
56.70C (1340F) at Death Valley (U.S.A), 1913
On 10th July 1913, Death Valley, a desert valley located in California recorded an air temperature of 56.70C, thus setting the record for hottest air temperature on Earth. Till 2012, it was believed that El Aziza, Libya had recorded the hottest temperature of 580C in 1922. But an investigation by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) concluded that the temperature recorded at El Aziza could be inaccurate up to 70C, thereby disqualifying its record.
Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world in summers due to an interesting combination of geological, locational and climatic conditions. Located 86m below sea level, it is devoid of plants which enables the sun’s heat to be absorbed and radiated by the soil and rocks, thereby heating the air at the ground level. The heated air rises and starts cooling but the narrow valley and surrounding high, steep mountains prevent it from escaping and it is recycled back to the valley floor. As these pockets of air descend, they get compressed and reheated to higher temperatures, thus forming hot wind currents that blow through the valley and create extremely high temperatures.
Coldest temperature recorded
-89.20C (-128.60F) at Vostok Station (Antarctica), 1983
On 21st July 1983, Vostok Station, a Russian research station in Princess Elizabeth Land, Antarctica recorded the lowest reliably measured temperature on Earth with a temperature reading of -89.20C (-128.60C). Vostok Station is one of the coldest and driest spots on Earth, with sub-zero temperatures throughout the year and hardly any precipitation. In fact, the maximum temperature ever recorded here is -140C (6.80F) and it has an average summer temperature of -320C (-250F) and average winter temperature of -680C (-900F) In 2010, NASA satellite data from east Antarctica showed a temperature of -93.20C (-135.80F) but as it was satellite-measured and not confirmed by ground measurements, Vostok Station’s record holds.
Non-polar: Atacama Desert (Chile & Peru)
Polar: Dry Valleys (Antarctica)
Dryness of a place is defined by the amount of rain, snow or other forms of precipitation it receives. The Atacama Desert is a long desert in South America located in Chile and parts of Peru that has the distinction of being the driest non-polar region in the world. The average annual rainfall here is 15 mm (0.6 inches) and in some locations, such as Arica and Iquique, the rainfall is even lower in the range of 1-3 mm (0.04-0.12 inches). Evidence suggests that some parts of Atacama Desert may have had no rainfall for 400 years from 1570 to 1971!
However, Dry Valleys in Antarctica have the distinction of being the driest region in the world with no rainfall for nearly 2 million years! The valleys have extremely low humidity and no ice or snow cover. The unique conditions here are caused by high-speed Katabatic winds that occur when dense, moisture-heavy air is pulled down by gravity, which heats the air and evaporates all water and ice. Both the Dry Valleys and Atacama Desert are being studied by scientists to understand the environment on Mars.
Mawsynram (Meghalaya, India)
Mawsynram, a village in the Indian state of Meghalaya, receives the highest rainfall in the world and therefore, has the distinction of being the wettest place on Earth. It receives an annual rainfall of 11,872 mm (467 inches)! Cherrapunji (or Sohra as it is more commonly known), another village about 15 km from Mawsynram, is a close second on the list of wettest places and holds the all-time record for most rainfall in calendar month (9300 mm in July 1861) and most rainfall in a calendar year (26461 mm between August 1860 and July 1861). Both places receive most of their rainfall during the monsoon season and their high rainfall is attributed to: 1) The Himalayas that prevent the rain clouds from moving northward, thus concentrating their moisture here and 2) the alignment of the Khasi Hills (in which both places are located) that is directly in the path of the airflow from the Bay of Bengal.
Commonwealth Bay (Antarctica)
Antarctica’s extreme conditions are evident from the fact that apart from being home to the coldest and driest places on Earth, it also harbors Earth’s windiest place! Commonwealth Bay, an open bay in Antarctica discovered by an expedition under Douglas Mawson in 1912, has an average annual wind speed of 80 km/hr (50 miles/hr) making it the windiest place on Earth. Wind speeds regularly exceed 240 km/hr (150 miles/hr), making measurements very challenging as they can destroy the measuring instruments. Katabatic winds created by the combination of the cold climate and the shape of the continent result in storms with such high wind speeds.
Highest point above sea level
8848 meters (29,029 feet), Mount Everest (Nepal)
Mount Everest has the distinction of being the highest point above sea level or the highest elevation with its peak 8848 meters above sea level. First ascended by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953, Mount Everest, though, is not the highest point from the Earth’s center! That distinction belongs to Chimborazo in Ecuador with its peak 6263 meters above sea level. The reason for this surprising fact is that Earth is not a complete sphere but an oblate spheroid- wider at the equator and narrower at the poles. Due to this, Chimborazo, located near the equator, is farther away from the Earth’s center than Mount Everest despite its lower altitude.
Deepest point in the ocean
10,994 meters (36,070 feet), Challenger Deep, Mariana Trench (Pacific Ocean)
The lowest known natural point on Earth is Challenger Deep, a depression at the bottom of Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. This descent of almost 11 kilometers in the ocean has only been achieved by three humans: Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh were the first to achieve it in 1960 while filmmaker James Cameron accomplished the second manned dive in 2012.
Tallest mountain (base to summit)
10,210 meters (33,500 feet), Mauna Kea (Hawaii, U.S.A.)
While Mount Everest is the highest mountain when measured from sea level, Mauna Kea has the distinction of being the world’s tallest mountain when measured from base to summit. Mauna Kea, the highest point in Hawaii, stands just about 4205 meters above sea level. However, much of the mountain is under water extending 6005 meters below sea level. Thus, the combined total of 10,210 meters from its base to summit makes Mauna Kea the “tallest” mountain on Earth. The summit of Mauna Kea serves as one of world’s best sites for astronomical observations because of its relatively high altitude, dry environment and stable airflow.