As the world's southern-most continent, Antarctica has unique weather conditions and climate. There are a number of factors that provide it with such a cold and extreme environment. Antarctica has a higher average elevation than the rest of the continents on Earth. Almost completely covered by ice and snow, its surface reflects the sun's solar energy back into the atmosphere, rather than absorbing it. Heat is also lost due to the lack of precipitation. With limited water vapor in the air, there is little to capture the sun's warmth. Antarctica's weather also contributes to its unparalleled beauty. In the winter months the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) appear dancing along the horizon in glowing greens and pinks as the solar winds meet with atmospheric gases. Antarctica is classified into three basic climate regions: the peninsula, coastal regions, and the interior.
Reaching farther north than any other part of the continent, the peninsula has the most moderate climate with its warmer temperatures and increased precipitation. Antarctica's wildlife is more dominant in this region. Here, millions of seabirds, and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, come to breed and feed in the summer months. Although the peninsula has milder temperatures than the rest of the continent, it sustains the fiercest winds, with gusts recorded as high as 200 mph.
The coastal regions are a balance between the Antarctic peninsula and the interior. The coasts are milder in temperature than the interior, and receive less precipitation that the peninsula. In the summer, warm ocean currents give this area a more moderate climate, but as winter approaches and the waters freeze, ice grows and the shoreline quickly cools. Coastal temperatures drop much lower than the peninsula. These regions rarely see rainfall, rather their precipitation usually occurs in the form of snow.
The coldest part of the continent is found in the interior. It is categorized primarily by its extreme cold and lack of precipitation. The coldest temperature ever recorded was at the Vostok research station, east of the South Pole; in July, 1983 the temperature reached -129 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a new world low. The sun stays below the horizon beginning in March and lasting through September. During these winter months the interior is almost in complete darkness with zero solar radiation to help heat the surface. Far away from the ocean, the interior receives no warming effects from the waters like the coastal regions and peninsula. Indirect sunrays and high elevation also add to the chilling temperatures of Antarctica's interior.