It is always winter in Antarctica, even when the sun shines at midnight. It’s far from the sunny tropics, and its winter months hold long dark nights. It is also a high plateau, and temperatures fall as elevations rise. This keeps it colder than the Arctic, where the Arctic Sea moderates the temperature. Yet Antarctica is not the coldest country on earth, because it is not a country, but a continent shared peacefully by visitors from many lands.
The coldest country on earth is probably Russia, specifically the region of Russia known as Siberia. On the north coast of Siberia, summer’s thaw is one month long. In Eastern Siberia, Oymyakon is by some measures the coldest town on earth. Its record low was -96.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Sakha is the coldest region of Siberia, and the Yana River basin the coldest area within it.
The people of Siberia are hardy indeed. Many were resettled for political crimes in former days, and set to labor to exploit Siberia’s vast natural wealth. Others are from families that have long known how to survive in Siberia.
The Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are technically a region of Denmark, but with internal autonomy. An island group northwest of the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands are a cliff-edged, rocky, steep archipelago, built mostly of ancient lava. Eighteen major islands and several islets, add up to 1393 square kilometers of land. Most of the islands are now thinly populated, with many people choosing to live in or near the capital of Torshavn.
Winters are cool but moderated by the North Atlantic current to a mean of 37-39 degrees F. Summers are short and cool, with mean temperatures of 49-51 degrees F. This does not sound cold, but sea winds blow, and rainstorms can come any day of the year, while skies are frequently overcast or foggy.
However, the longevity of Faroe Islanders is quite wonderful. They are ranked as the 28th longest lived population in the world. This may be because of their excellent heredity, cohesive society, or healthy diet, but it also may be because theirs is a healthy climate.
Greenland is also a region of Denmark with considerable internal autonomy. Greenland is the largest island in the world, but 81% of its area is covered by an ice cap. The population, about 57,600 people, inhabits a barren rocky strip of land near the coast, and a quarter of them live in the capital, Nuuk.
The climate is considered subarctic in the south, grading to arctic in the north. Permafrost covers two-thirds of the island. Nevertheless, Greenland is rich in resources, holding troves of diamonds, gold, platinum, niobium, tantalum and other minerals.
Iceland gained its independence in1944.It is a small island, almost the size of the state of Kentucky. Like the nearby Faroe Islands, the climate is one of marine-influenced mild windy winters and damp cool summers. Like the Faroese, the 320,000 Icelanders enjoy a vibrant modern society with a healthy population and long lifespans, according to a list at Ranker the 14th longest in the world.
The island holds extensive glaciers, ice fields, sand, and rock. Only about 25 percent has vegetation. The island is extremely geologically active, with many volcanoes and geysers. Most homes and factories in Iceland are powered by geothermal and/or hydrothermal energy.
Svalbard is a Norwegian island group located at half the distance between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It used to function as a whaling station, but now its economy depends upon mining and tourism.
Outside of commercial operations, Svalbard functions as a center for research. The University there offers free classes, taught in English and attended by students from around the world. Ny Alesund is a settlement dedicated entirely to research. Another important facility in Svalbard is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This facility is designed to ensure genetic diversity for the future, by preserving a wide variety of seeds and plant materials from all the world’s biomes.
Svalbard’s climate is arctic, with long winter nights and the midnight sun in summer. The islands are a refuge for seabirds, and home to reindeer and polar bears. Glaciers cover Sixty percent of this rugged archipelago.
The Himalayan region and the Tibetan plateau
Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and Pakistan, all hold mountain regions that experience brutal cold. However, most also hold verdant valleys. The Tibetan plateau, however, is actually a cold desert, and one of the emptiest and most isolated areas of the world. Cold increases with altitude, as well as with distance from the warm tropics. Yet this icy region is still the spiritual home to many who live far away.
Many factors determine a country’s climate. Marine influence, altitude, and prevailing winds count for nearly as much as latitude. The inhabitants of each cold country have long adapted to bitter cold, and made clever use of the environments that are their home.