World heat record declared wrong 90 years on

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 4:18am


The world's all-time heat record lowered a tad yesterday, as the World Meteorological Organisation declared that a phenomenal 58 degrees Celsius recorded in Libya 90 years ago was wrong.

Instead, the title of the world's hottest place should go to Death Valley, California, it said.

"The all-time heat record held for exactly 90 years by Al-Aziziyah in Libya is invalid because of an error in recording the temperature," the UN body said.

The conclusion comes from a danger-fraught probe last year, conducted in the throes of the Libyan revolution, into how 58 degrees Celsius came to be documented on September 13, 1922 at Al-Aziziyah, southwest of the Libyan capital Tripoli.

A panel of climate experts from around the world found that the thermometer used was not standard and determined that the person who measured the temperature was probably inexperienced. "We're pretty sure that the person who was tasked with taking the measurements using this instrument didn't know how to use it," Professor Randy Cerveny, the WMO rapporteur on climate extremes who headed the project, said.

In the 1922 logsheet, "the observer had put the numbers in the wrong columns. That kind of tells us that he wasn't used to doing weather observation work," Cerveny said. He theorised that the unidentified individual had in fact completely misread the thermometer "and was off by five degrees Celsius".

The committee "decided that this measurement … simply wasn't valid," he said.

The world's hottest temperature has therefore been passed to the next hottest temperature recorded on the planet: 56.7 degrees Celsius, measured on July 10, 1913 in Death Valley.

The head of the Libyan National Meteorological Centre under former ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Khalid El-Fadli, a vital member of the probe and who had dug up documents that shed doubt on the record, went missing for six months during the revolution. But Fadli resurfaced in August last year, holding the same position for the rebel authorities, and the suspended probe continued.