GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (BNO NEWS) — Death Valley in California was on Thursday recognized as having posted the world’s hottest temperature after an international team of experts ruled the previous record set in Libya was invalid due to the use of problematic instruments and an inexperienced observer.
The investigation began in early 2010 after a weather historian at the Weather Underground website asked Arizona State University to look into the accuracy of the 58.0 degrees Celsius (136.4 degrees Fahrenheit) that had been recorded at an Italian army base on September 13, 1922, near the town of El Azizia in present day Libya.
“There was some concern that that particular value might not have been recorded properly,” said Randy Cerveny, an Arizona State University President’s Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. He also works at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in the field of extreme weather and climate.
“We formed a committee of absolute experts across the entire world in meteorology to look at this record,” Cerveny said. “It was in essence playing detective. We were throwing up all the old records and all the information that we could find for how and exactly in what way was this measurement made back in 1922. And we found some pretty startling things.”
The investigation revealed that the proper instrument had broken down a few days earlier, forcing the observer to use another instrument which used a combination of alcohol and mercury as its way of finding the temperature. “It is a very odd instrument and also very difficult to use properly,” Cerveny said.
On top of that, the experts now believe the observer was inexperienced because of several errors he made. “We’re pretty sure that the person that was tasked with taking the measurements using this instrument didn’t know how to use it,” Cerveny said. “We have some ideas about that simply from the log sheet that he looked at. When we looked at the log sheet, and we have the original 1922 log sheet from this particular set of observations, we found that the observer had put the numbers in the wrong column.”
The experts also compared the observer’s observations to surrounding locations and then further compared them to earlier and later observations at the same site. They were no match, and it is now believed that the Libyan observer was looking at the wrong side of the scale which would have resulted in a reading of 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above the actual temperature.
As a result, the World Meteorological Organization has decided to declare the 90-year-old temperature record in Libya to be invalid. The new world temperature record is now the 56.7 degrees Celsius (134 degrees Fahrenheit) which was recorded on July 10, 1913, at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley, California.
“By recorded by the way we’re meaning within the last 150 years of records that we have,” Cerveny explained. “There have been times in the geologic history of the Earth that we’ve been much, much hotter (and) much, much colder, but we’re talking about the instrumented record that we have available to us.”
Cerveny said knowing the true world temperature record will have some important uses. “This is the highest recorded temperature of where people live, so this type of data can help cities that exist in such environments to design buildings that are best suited for these extremes,” he said. “Knowing the maximum temperatures certain materials must endure leads to better products and designs. That’s why many auto manufactures have test tracks in the hot Mohave desert.”