Daily Archives: December 26, 2008

Welcome to the Coldest Town on Earth


FRIGID CONDITIONS: The temperature in Oymyakon, Siberia, could plunge to match (or exceed) the record minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 68 degrees Celsius) reached in 1933.

Scientists and politicians may argue over the extent and significance of climate change and global warming, but to residents of Oymyakon, it’s little more than hot air.

Scientific American | Dec 24, 2008

Oymyakon, Siberia, is bracing for temps as low as minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 67.8 degrees Celsius)

By Larry Greenemeier

As winter sets in, the 800 hearty denizens of the coldest town on earth are bracing for one of the most frigid blasts yet, as forecasters predict that temperatures in Oymyakon, Siberia, could plunge to the coldest ever recorded in an inhabited location. There is no disputing that the mercury slides in Alaska and even in the Midwestern U.S. in the heart of winter. But if you want cold, visit Oymyakon, which this winter is expected to reach (or perhaps exceed) its record low temperature: a bone-chilling minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 68 degrees Celsius) reached on Feb. 6, 1933. It is a record matched only by nearby Verkhoyansk, Siberia, which endured minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 7, 1892.

Oymyakon’s natives have learned to adapt to the freezing conditions: the town’s only school closes only when temperatures sink below minus 61.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 52 degrees Celsius), San Francisco-based Green Options Media reported last week. (Quite the contrast to schools in the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas, which close at the mere mention of freezing temperatures and snow.)

Siberia is a breeding ground for extremely cold temperatures, thanks to its long winter nights, abundance of snow and location deep in Russia’s interior, away from any body of water that might have a moderating effect on its weather, says Bob Oravec, lead forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service in Camp Springs, Md. Looking at his weather map this week, Oravec saw that pockets of Siberia were recording minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit (although he could not specifically determine the temperature in Oymyakon). The world record for the coldest temperature on earth, he adds, belongs to the South Pole, where it dropped to minus 128 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89 degrees Celsius ) in 1983.

In places like Siberia, cold is a self-perpetuating condition. “When the earth is covered with snow, it radiates whatever little heat it has into space,” Oravec says. “If you have snow cover, light winds and long nights, these are very good conditions for very cold temperatures to form.”

Adds Jack Williams, coordinator of public outreach for the American Meteorological Society: “The main thing that you need for that kind of cold is a high-pressure area that takes over and keeps clouds from forming. Moisture helps warm the air.” When there are no clouds and no moisture, infrared energy emitted from the earth escapes into the atmosphere.

Oymyakon’s position at 2,264 feet (690 meters) above sea level in a valley between two mountain ranges also contributes to its chilly climate. “The cold air will pool and sink to the bottom of the valley,” Oravec says, noting that “this is what happens in Fairbanks, Alaska, where temperatures in the surrounding mountains can be 50 degrees warmer.”

Oravec cannot confirm or deny reports of birds freezing to death midflight in Oymyakon. But he points out that plants can survive in such cold if covered with snow, because the temperature below the snow is considerably warmer than on top of it. “A blanket of snow would insulate you,” he says, “and hold the heat in from the ground.”

Though Siberia holds the record for coldest inhabited areas, it doesn’t hold a candle, er, thermometer to the poles. “There are places in Siberia that don’t have snow all year-round, so the earth will heat more quickly in the sun than a place that is covered in ice, like the North Pole,” Oravec says.

Scientists and politicians may argue over the extent and significance of climate change and global warming, but to residents of Oymyakon, it’s little more than hot air.


BBC reporter faces 15 years in prison for insulting Thai king

BBC reporter could face 15 years in Thai prison

Head speculated about the relationship between the palace and the anti-government protest group that took over Bangkok’s main international and domestic airports for eight days.

Associated Press | Dec 25, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand: A group that campaigns for journalists’ rights called on Thai police Thursday to drop complaints against a British Broadcasting Corp. journalist accused of slandering the country’s king.

BBC correspondent Jonathan Head has been accused of insulting the monarchy, or lese-majeste, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Three complaints were lodged by police Lt. Col. Wattanasak Mungkandee, who said he was acting in a personal capacity.

Authorities have yet to decide whether to formally charge Head.

“It is time for prosecutors and investigators in Thailand to immediately drop these outrageous and punitive charges against our colleague Jonathan Head,” said Bob Dietz of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Head’s reporting has raised important questions about Thailand’s deteriorating political situation and he should be allowed to report without fear of official reprisals.”

One complaint is related to a Dec. 3 article in which Head speculated about the relationship between the palace and the anti-government protest group that took over Bangkok’s main international and domestic airports for eight days.

In the earlier complaint in May, Wattanasak submitted as evidence 11 articles from the BBC Web site, even though some were not written by Head. He also submitted a photograph of Head shaking hands with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra before an interview in late 2001.

Thaksin, accused of corruption and abuse of power, was ousted by a September 2006 military coup. His critics also accused him of trying to usurp royal power and being disrespectful to the king.

The BBC, one of the world’s major newsgathering organizations, has in the past described the allegations as “completely unfounded.”

When reached by phone Thursday, Head said the BBC had no further comment.

The majority of Thais greatly revere 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. However, insulting the monarchy, a crime known as lese-majeste, is sometimes used for political purposes to smear its targets.

Authorities take a hard line against anyone who criticizes Bhumibol, the world’s longest-serving monarch. In recent months, authorities have cracked down on hundreds of Web sites for posting materials considered offensive to the monarchy, CPJ said.

Wattanasak said he was acting on behalf of Thais who have come to him complaining about Head’s coverage.

“As a Thai, I made a decision that I had to do something to let foreign reporters know that Thais are not happy with those who write something bad about our royal family,” Wattanasak told The Associated Press.

Wattanasak also filed a lese-majeste charge in March against Jakrapob Penkair, a minister attached to the prime minister’s office and a close Thaksin ally. Police announced in May they would file formal charges against Jakrapob, who then resigned.