This week, Collected Wisdom sets out in search of some cold facts. Actually, some of the coldest facts on the face of the planet.
Why is the South Pole colder than the North Pole? asks Phil James of Montreal.
It’s because of the South Pole’s high elevation, says John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England.
The ice of the North Pole floats in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, “so the weather observations we have from ships and drifting buoys are at sea level, with these suggesting that the average temperature for the year is about minus 15 degrees Celsius.” In contrast, the South Pole is located close to the centre of the vast Antarctic ice sheet that itself sits upon a continent and whose surface is 2,800 metres (9,200 feet) above sea level.
The U.S. Amundsen-Scott research station was established at the South Pole in 1957 and has provided weather observations since then, Prof. Turner says. “These indicate that the average temperature for the year at the South Pole is minus 49 degrees.”
As you go higher in the atmosphere, he tells us, the temperature drops by around 9.8 degrees for each kilometre, so the
difference in elevation of 2.8 km between sea level and Amundsen-Scott station should be just over 27 degrees. “However, in reality the South Pole is about 34 degrees colder than the North Pole.” That’s because the South Pole is so remote from the ocean and “does not experience the moderating influence of the ice-free waters found across parts of the Arctic Ocean in some months of the year.”
Nathan Kirkham of Burnaby, B.C., wants to know how the funny bone got its name.
Carla Hagstrom of the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto suggested that we check this out in Medical Meanings: A Glossary of Word Origins by W.S. Haubrich. So we did.
According to the tome, the term “funny bone” is used by people to refer to the elbow or, more specifically, the olecranon protuberance of the ulna. Punsters, it says, have tried to explain this by pointing out that the ulna articulates with the humerus.
The real explanation for “funny bone,” however, “is that the ulnar nerve lies in the exposed ulnar groove of the olecranon, which, when bumped, causes a strangely ‘electric’ sensation in the forearm and hand.”
Last week, in explaining why baseball players spit so much, California psychoanalyst Mary C. Lamia told us that they do it to intimidate their opponents.
R. T. Ruggles of Toronto disagrees. “I am worried that Dr. Lamia has spent too much time in theory classes and not enough on the baseball diamond,” he writes. Based on his personal experience, he says, players spit primarily to expel dust from their mouths. When baseball players want to express disdain for opponents, he writes, “it is usually done by swearing, not spitting.”
Why, asks Eric Morris of Montreal, are you not allowed to use electronic devices when a plane is taking off or landing but you are allowed to use them when the aircraft is at cruising altitude?
David Patterson of Aurora, Ont., noticed while watching the Olympics that divers often entered a whirlpool. Why?
Adam Dougall of Windsor, Ont., asks: How much mass has the Earth gained over the past 100 years through increased human population?
Let’s hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.