Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Terahertz and far-infrared windows opened at Dome A in Antarctica


The terahertz and far-infrared band, ranging from approximately 0.3 THz to 15 THz (1 mm to 20 μm), is important for astrophysics as it hosts the peak of the thermal radiation of the cold component of the Universe as well as many spectral lines that trace the cycle of interstellar matter18. However, water vapour makes the terrestrial atmosphere opaque to this frequency band over nearly all of the Earth’s surface9. Early radiometric measurements10 below 1 THz at Dome A (80° 22′ S, 77° 21′ E), the highest point of the cold and dry Antarctic ice sheet, suggest that this site may offer the best possible access for ground-based astronomical observations in the terahertz and far-infrared band. To fully assess the site conditions and to address the uncertainties in radiative transfer modelling of the atmosphere, we carried out measurements of atmospheric radiation from Dome A with a Fourier transform spectrometer, spanning the entire water vapour pure rotation band from 20 μm to 350 μm. Our measurements reveal substantial transmission in atmospheric windows throughout the whole band. By combining our broadband spectra with data on the atmospheric state over Dome A, we set new constraints on the spectral absorption of water vapour at upper tropospheric temperatures, which is important for accurate modelling of the terrestrial climate. We find that current spectral models significantly underestimate the H2O continuum absorption.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Zenith atmospheric transmittance spectra measured at Dome A, Antarctica, during 2010–2011.
Figure 2: Atmospheric profiles over Dome A, Antarctica, during the August 2010 study period.
Figure 3: H2O foreign continuum correction derived from spectral residuals.


  1. Phillips, T. G. & Keene J. Submillimeter astronomy. Proc. IEEE 80, 1662–1678 (1992).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Watson, D. M. Far-infrared spectroscopy and the physics and chemistry of interstellar clouds. Phys. Scripta T11, 33–47 (1985).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Goldsmith, P. F., Yildiz, U. A., Langer, W. D. & Pineda, J. L. Herschel galactic plane survey of [N ii] fine structure emission. Astrophys. J. 814, 133 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Goicoechea, J. R. et al. Velocity-resolved [C ii] emission and [C ii]/FIR mapping along Orion with Herschel. Astrophys. J. 812, 75 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Wiedner, M. C. et al. First observations with CONDOR, a 1.5 THz heterodyne receiver. Astron. Astrophys. 454, L33–L36 (2006).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hogerheijde, M. R. et al. Probable detection of H2D+ in the starless core Barnard 68. Astron. Astrophys. 454, L59–L62 (2006).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Caselli, P. et al. Survey of ortho-H2D+ (11,0 – 11,1) in dense cloud cores. Astron. Astrophys. 492, 703–718 (2008).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Rolffs, R. et al. Reversal of infall in SgrB2(M) revealed by Herschel/HIFI observations of HCN lines at THz frequencies. Astron. Astrophys. 521, L46 (2010).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Harries, J. et al. The far-infrared Earth. Rev. Geophys. 46, RG4004 (2008).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Yang, H. et al. Exceptional terahertz transparency and stability above Dome A, Antarctica. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 122, 490–494 (2010).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. J. Qiu China aims high from the bottom of the world. Nature News (29 August 2012);

  12. Li, X.-X. et al. A Fourier transform spectrometer for site testing at Dome A. Proc. SPIE 7385, 73851D (2009).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Matsushita, S., Matsuo, H., Pardo, J. R. & Radford S. J. E. FTS measurements of submillimeter-wave atmospheric opacity at Pampa la Bola II: supra-terahertz windows and model fitting. Publ. Astron. Soc. Jpn 51, 603–610 (1999).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Marrone, D. P. et al. Observations in the 1.3 and 1.5 THz atmospheric windows with the Receiver Lab Telescope. In Proc. 16th Int. Symp. Space Terahertz Technology (ed Ingvarson, M.) 64–67 (International Symposium on Space Terahertz Technology, 2005).

  15. Shine, K. P., Ptashnik, I. V. & Rädel, G. The water vapor continuum: brief history and recent developments. Surv. Geophys. 33, 535–555 (2012).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Mlawer, E. J. et al. Development and recent evaluation of the MT_CKD model of continuum absorption. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 370, 2520–2556 (2012).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Ramanathan, V. & Coakley, J. A. Climate modelling through radiative-convective models. Rev. Geophys. Space Phys. 16, 465–489 (1978).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Clough, S. A., Iacono, M. & Moncet, J.-L. Line-by-line calculations of atmospheric fluxes and cooling rates: application to water vapor. J. Geophys. Res. 97, 15761–15785 (1992).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Turner, D. D., Merrelli, A., Vimont, D. & Mlawer, E. J. Impact of modifying the longwave water vapor continuum absorption model on community Earth system model simulations. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D04106 (2012).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Paynter, D. J. & Ramaswamy, V. An assessment of recent water vapour continuum measurements upon longwave and shortwave radiative transfer. J. Geophys. Res. 116, D20302 (2011).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Turner, D. D. & Mlawer, E. J. The radiative heating in underexplored bands campaigns. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 91, 911–923 (2010).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Delamere, J. S. et al. A far-infrared radiative closure study in the Arctic: application to water vapour. J. Geophys. Res. 115, D17106 (2010).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Turner, D. D. et al. Ground-based high spectral resolution observations of the entire terrestrial spectrum under extremely dry conditions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10801 (2012).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. Bhawar, R. et al. Spectrally resolved observations of atmospheric emitted radiance in the H2O rotation band. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L04812 (2008).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Serio, C. et al. Retrieval of foreign-broadened water vapor continuum coefficients from emitted spectral radiance in the H2O rotational band from 240 to 590 cm−1 . Opt. Express 16, 15816–15833 (2008).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Green, P. D. et al. Recent advances in measurement of the water vapour continuum in the far-infrared spectral region. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 370, 2637–2655 (2012).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rienecker, M. M. et al. MERRA: NASA’s modern-era retrospective analysis for research and applications. J. Clim. 24, 3624–3648 (2011).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Wang, J. et al. Unprecedented upper-air dropsonde observations over Antarctica from the 2010 Concordiasi experiment: validation of satellite-retrieved temperature profiles. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 1231–1236 (2013).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hudson, S. R. & Brandt, R. E. A Look at the surface-based temperature inversion on the Antarctic plateau. J. Clim. 18, 1673–1696 (2005).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Paine, S. The am atmospheric model v. 9.0 Submillimeter Array Technical Memo No. 152 (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, 2016);

  31. Martin D. H. & Puplett, E. Polarised interferometric spectrometry for the millimetre and submillimetre spectrum. Infrared Phys. 10, 105–109 (1969).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Lawrence, J. S. et al. The PLATO Dome A site-testing observatory: power generation and control systems. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 80, 064501 (2009).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Revercomb, H. E. et al. Radiometric calibration of IR Fourier transform spectrometers: solution to a problem with the high-resolution interferometer sounder. Appl. Optics 27, 3210–3218 (1988).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Fleming, J. W. et al. Temperature effects and the observation of the B2u lattice mode in the far infrared absorption spectrum of polyethylene. Chem. Phys. Lett. 17, 84–85 (1972).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Amrhein, E. M. & Heil, H. Dielectric absorption of polymers from the millimetre to the far infrared region. J. Phys. Chem. Solids 32, 1925–1933 (1971).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Chantry, G. W. et al. Far infrared and millimetre-wave absorption spectra of some low-loss polymers. Chem. Phys. Lett. 10, 473–477 (1971).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge the assistance of the 26th and 27th CHINARE teams supported by the Polar Research Institute of China and the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, the University of New South Wales PLATO team, the CAS Center for Antarctic Astronomy team and the other teams contributing to the operation of the Dome A facilities, in particular J.W.V. Storey, D.M. Luong-Van, A. Moore, C. Pennypacker, D. York, L. Wang, L. Feng, Z. Zhu, H. Yang, X. Cui, X. Yuan, X. Gong, X. Zhou, X. Liu, Z. Wang, and J. Huang. The exemplary work of D. Naylor and B. Gom of Blue Sky Spectroscopy Inc. and K. Wood of QMC Instruments Inc. is acknowledged. We also acknowledge discussions with D.D. Turner of NOAA on complex-domain calibration of the FTS spectra, and E.J. Mlawer of AER Inc. on the MT_CKD water vapour continuum model and its implementation in the radiative transfer code used in this work. MERRA data used in this study were provided by the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO) at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center through the NASA GES DISC online archive. Primary support for this research was provided by the Operation, Maintenance and Upgrading Fund for Astronomical Telescopes and Facility Instruments, funded by the Ministry of Finance of China (MOF) and administered by the CAS. The traverse team was financially supported by the Chinese Polar Environment Comprehensive Investigation & Assessment Program. The PLATO team was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Australian Antarctic Division. Iridium satellite communications were provided by the US National Science Foundation and the US Antarctic Program. Co-authors S.P. and Q.Z. received additional support for this work from Smithsonian Institution Endowment funds and the Smithsonian Competitive Grants Program for Science. Co-author H.M. was supported partly by a visiting professorship of CAS for senior international scientists.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.-C.S., S.P., Q.Z. and J.Y. proposed the Dome A FTS project, with S.-C.S. as the principal investigator. All authors contributed substantially to multiple aspects of the work presented here. All authors commented upon and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sheng-Cai Shi.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–7 (PDF 1349 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Shi, SC., Paine, S., Yao, QJ. et al. Terahertz and far-infrared windows opened at Dome A in Antarctica. Nat Astron 1, 0001 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing