MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: How is possible that Antarctica is the wettest & driest place on Earth?

Date: Mon Jul 18 16:28:23 2005
Posted By: Ken Harding, Science and Operations Officer
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 1120769346.Es

Hello Nishant,

The wettest and driest spots on earth are somewhat difficult to pinpoint 
exactly, as reliable precipitation measurements are usually located quite 
far apart.

Nonetheless, the wettest spot on earth is thought to be either Mount 
Waialeale on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, or Cherrapunji, India. Mount 
Waialeale is a 5148 foot mountain that receives nearly continuous 
precipitation from northeasterly trade winds blowing up the mountain 
slopes. Average rainfall is approximately 460 inches per year - about 38 
feet or 11.7 meters. In Cherrapunji, consistent monsoon rains give 
tremendous precipitation. In fact, more than 1,000 inches of rain fell in 
Cherrapunji, India, during the monsoon season from 1860 to 1861. In March, 
1952, 72 inches of rain fell in one day at Cilaos, on Reunion Island in 
the West Indian Ocean. On July 4, 1956, a cloudburst in Unionville, 
Maryland, USA, flooded the streets with an incredible 1.23 inches of rain 
in 60 seconds.

The driest spot on earth may be the Atacama Desert along the Chilean-
Peruvian border, where no rain has ever been recorded. Local peoples 
capture fog from the ocean for drinking water.

Back to Antarctica. At the South Pole, precipitation averages less than 
one inch per year. However, since it is always very cold there, the snow 
never melts.

I suspect that the web site that suggested Antarctica as both the wettest 
and driest points to the amount of water available in the polar ice cap - 
nearly 70% of the earth's fresh water in locked in the Antarctic ice cap. 
It is also one of the world’s greatest deserts but isn't hot and dry 
instead being cold and dry.

Ken Harding
National Weather Service
Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA

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