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New findings overturn Libya temperature record

An analysis of what had been for 90 years the hottest recorded temperature, in El Azizia, Libya in 1922, found serious flaws in how the heat was measured. The World Meteorological Organization has now handed the title back to Death Valley, in July 1913.

Image

This is a drawing of the Six-Bellini thermometer, the antiquated type used to make the observation of the former world's hottest temperature in El Azizia, Libya.

Image supplied by Paolo Brenni, President of the Scientific Instrument Commission, and courtesy of Library of the Observatorio Astronomico Di Palermo, Gisuseppe S. Vaiana.

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El Azizia, Libya, no longer holds the title for "world's hottest temperature." Today, that record passes to Death Valley, Calif.

No, a heat wave didn't pass through the notoriously baking area yesterday. The new record-setting temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius) was actually recorded in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.

The temperature is only now being recognized because the previous record high temperature of 136.4 F (58 C) in El Azizia has been overturned by the World Meteorological Organization after an in-depth investigation by a team of meteorologists. The record temperature had long been thought dubious, but this new study has finally made the persuading case to overturn it, 90 years to the day after it was made.

A measurement in doubt

The Libyan temperature had been recorded on Sept. 13, 1922, at an Italian army base. It had long stood out as an oddity, even though Libya certainly sees hot temperatures: El Azizia is located about 35 miles southwest of Tripoli, which lies on the Mediterranean coast. The waters would have a tempering influence on temperatures in the area, all of which weren't nearly as high as the record temperature.

"When we compared his [the thermometer reader's] observations to surrounding areas and to other measurements made before and after the 1922 reading, they simply didn't match up," said team member Randy Cerveny, of Arizona State University, in a statement.

Cerveny and the other members of the international team dug through historical records to evaluate the plausibility of the temperature.

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