Telescopes used for research at the South Pole. (NSF / USAP photo by Scot Jackson, Raytheon Polar Services Company.)

By Brett Israel
LiveScience Staff Writer

The South Pole experienced its warmest year on record in 2009, according to newly released data from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The average temperature at the South Pole last year was still a bone-chilling minus 54.2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 47.9 degrees Celsius) in 2009, making it the warmest year on record since 1957, when temperature records began at the South Pole.

The previous record high was minus 54.4 F (minus 48 C), recorded in 2002, according to Tim Markle, senior meteorologist at the South Pole Station in Antarctica.

Last year was also the second warmest year on record for the planet, according to NASA measurements of global surface temperatures released earlier this year. The global record warm year, in the period of near-global instrumental measurements since the late 1800s, was 2005.

Until 2010, the South Pole has actually gone two straight winters without dipping below the minus 100 F (minus 73 C) barrier - especially worrisome for those looking to join the exclusive South Pole 300 Club (to gain admission," Polies" pile into a 200 F (93 C) sauna and then run outside in the minus 100 F cold to the geographic pole wearing their boots and little else). The mercury dropped to minus 99.9 F (minus 73.3 C) and minus 98.0 F (minus 72.2 C) in 2009. That second temperature also represents the warmest minimum temperature recorded for a calendar year, Markle said.

In 2007, the temperature plunged below minus 100 F for only about a minute on Sept. 2, Markle added, meaning that the last three calendar years didn't significantly reach minus 100 F. …

South Pole Has Warmest Year on Record

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