I had to chuckle when I read this. Dr. Jeff Masters writes about the newly discovered siting and instrumentation issues that takes away the all time temperature record from Libya. Let’s hope it doesn’t cause any riots.
As any weather aficionado can avow, Earth’s most iconic weather record has long been the legendary all-time hottest temperature of 58°C (136.4°F) measured 90 years ago today at El Azizia, Libya on September 13, 1922. One hundred thirty six degrees! It’s difficult to comprehend that heat like that could exist on our planet. For 90 years, no place on Earth has come close to beating the unbelievable 136 degree reading from Al Azizia, and for good reason–the record is simply not believable. But Earth’s mightiest weather record has been officially cast down.
Today, the official arbiter of Earth’s weather records, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced that the all-time heat record held for exactly 90 years by El Azizia in Libya “is invalid because of an error in recording the temperature.” The WMO committee found five major problems with the measurement.
Most seriously, the temperature was measured in a paved courtyard over a black, asphalt-like material by a new and inexperienced observer, not trained in the use of an unsuitable replacement instrument that could be easily misread.
The observer improperly recorded the observation, which was consequently in error by about 7°C (12.6°F.) The new official highest hottest place on the planet is now Death Valley, California. A remarkable high temperature of 56.7°C (134°F) was measured there on 10 July 1913, at Greenland Ranch.
Christopher C. Burt, Weather Underground’s historian, tells more of the story of how he reopened the issue.
Here’s an excerpt:
This would be an unprecedented investigation for this WMO extreme records evaluation committee. Rehashing old records is not the WMO Archive’s primary objective, which is to verify new potential records. As Dr. Tom Peterson of the US National Climate Data Center and President of the WMO’s Commission on Climatology (of which the Archive is a part), put it:
“To be honest, I was reluctant to reopen this question because other people had looked at the record in the past and it had been so widely accepted. I was particularly afraid that it would be an uncertain subjective opinion as to whether it was a bit off or not.”
Nevertheless, the investigation was approved and on February 8, 2011 an international team of climate experts was assembled (eventually 13 atmospheric scientists in all) by Randy. The official investigation began.
Amazingly, El Fadli had just uncovered a key document: the actual log sheet of the observations made at Azizia in September 1922 (see illustration further below). The log sheet clearly illustrated that a change of observers had occurred (as was evidenced by the hand written script) on September 11, 1922, just two days prior to the ostensible record temperature of 58° on September 13th. Furthermore, the new observer had interchanged the Tmin columns with the Tmax columns.
Also, Philip Eden of the Royal Meteorological Society and others uncovered information concerning the unreliability of the Bellani-Six type of thermometer that had apparently been used at Azizia in September 1922. Of particular interest was how the slide within the thermometer casing was of a length equivalent to 7°C. It would be easy for an inexperienced observer to mistakenly read the top of the slide for the daily maximum temperature rather than correctly reading the bottom of such slide, a point that El Fadli made in a message to me early on in the investigation.
A 1933 instrument catalog image of the Bellani-Six style thermometer. Image supplied by Paolo Brenni, President of the Scientific Instrument Commission, and courtesy of Library of the Observatorio Astronomico Di Palermo, Gisuseppe S. Vaiana.
So a combination of siting, inexperience, and instrumentation led to a record that was 7 degrees high, and it has taken decades to figure this out. It makes you wonder just how many other weather records and data are erroneous. My congratulations to Weather Underground for making this find.
While we are on the subject of siting/instrumentation and temperature records, this shift of the all time weather record now leaves another possibility open – that the record will be bested in Death Valley sometime soon. In 2002, the late John Daly presciently outlined the change in instrumentation and siting at a station in Death Valley that sets the stage for a new record there. I’m sure he would find this latest shift in the temperature record as “cheering news” as
by John L. Daly
(19th July 2002)
In climatology, record-breaking is of little significance climatically speaking. An all-time hot record in one place can be easily matched by an all-time cold record somewhere else. This year in the U.S. and in Australia, both hot and cold records have been broken at various times and places. They make interesting fare for the Guinness Book of Records, but little else.
However, record-breaking does have one purpose for the greenhouse industry, namely that of heightening public fears about global warming. For this reason, the industry likes to see hot records being broken as often as possible, present a lot of media hype about them, and then go into quick denial and spin-making when cold records are broken, sometimes even blaming the cold record on global warming!
The industry also dislikes a hot record being very old, such as the all-time hot daytime record for Australia of 53.1°C. set at Cloncurry, Queensland in 1889. Valuable research money and academic effort was spent in a futile effort to discredit that one record (Trewin, B., Aust. Met. Mag. 46 (1997) 251-256).
There is one all-time hot record that is the ultimate global prize: 58°C (136°F) set at Al Aziziya, Libya, in 1922. This was the hottest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world and has stood for 80 years in spite of real or imagined `global warming”. It is even noted in the Guinness Book of Records. But 1922 is a long time ago and the longer it stands, the less convincing are the claims about global warming in the eyes of the public.
To topple this record, the industry has not bothered with the Cloncurry approach – that of seeking to discredit the record itself – as that appeared to be, and was, merely sour grapes and spin.
Fig.1 – Badwater
Instead, the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), has set up their own temperature instrument in Death Valley, even though there is already a long-standing instrument at Furnace Creek right in the open central part of the valley.
The new instrument is located 20 miles south of Furnace Creek at Badwater (Fig.1).
The photo shows the Badwater area with a large salt pan stretching into the far distance, caused by evaporation of salty water welling up from a spring just metres this side of the sign shown in the photo.
Fig.2 – GISS Historical Data for Furnace Creek
It was at Furnace Creek that the all-time hottest record in the USA was broken, 57°C. ( 134°F.) in 1913, just 2°F short of the Libyan all-time record.
The GISS historical data for Death Valley (i.e. Furnace Creek) is presented left and shows no overall warming at Death Valley since the 1950s.
The new instrument at Badwater was installed in the late 1990s, but it must be stressed that the record left is for Furnace Creek, not Badwater. Yet the public plaque on the instrument at Badwater implies otherwise.
Fig.3 – Part of the Badwater Plaque
Here is how the public plaque at Badwater misrepresents Death Valley (Fig.3). It’s red graph line traces the same data as the one above, and it is immediately clear that the ARC graph differs from GISS in that the ARC graph shows a continuous warming whereas the GISS graph only shows warming pre-1950s with little long-term change since. They can’t both be right. The plaque also said –
“During the summer of 1998 – the warmest year on record – we recorded the hottest air temperature anywhere in the world of 53.06°C ±0.1°C (128°F) on 17 July 1998 at 3:15 pm local standard time.”
Having mentioned 1998, that year was conveniently left off the chart. And with good reason, as Fig.2 shows that 1998 was a particularly cool year.
(left) Fig.4 – The Badwater instrument.
What exactly do those skilfully crafted words on the plaque mean anyway? Note, it refers to 1998 as the `warmest year on record’, but omits to say they are referring to the world as whole, not to Death Valley itself. 1998 at Death Valley (Furnace Creek) was actually cooler than usual.
The plaque claims Death Valley recorded the hottest air temperature anywhere in the world on 17th July 1998 – implying it was an all-time world record. It was not. It was referring to 1998 only. Actually, the hottest temperature ever recorded at Death Valley was way back in 1913 on 10th July – a whopping 134°F (57°C).
The sharp dip in temperature near the end of the record (Fig.2) was – 1998 ! – the `warmest year on record’ according to the plaque. In fact, 1998 was the coolest year at Death Valley since 1945, belying the implied claims about 1998.
Note how the ARC plaque refers to `Death Valley’ generally and not Badwater or Furnace Creek specifically. This merging of two quite different locations 20 miles apart is itself misleading to the public who may be unaware that `Death Valley’ now has more than one weather station.
A photo of the weather instrument at Badwater is shown left, the small yellow plaque mounted low down on the structure. I visited there during my trip in April this year.
Unlike the Furnace Creek instrument which is located in the open centre of the big valley, the new instrument has been mounted next to the eastern side of the valley at Badwater. The local topography is such that the instrument sits in a curved hollow (topographical map – Fig.5) so that it is well sheltered from all but westerly winds, and fully exposed to the afternoon summer sun. In fact, the whole area around the instrument is a perfect afternoon sun trap.
On the east side of the instrument is a high west-facing cliff over 500 feet tall, a cliff which will heat up magnificently in the afternoon sun on a hot summer’s day. 280 feet up on that cliff is a large sign which says `mean sea level’ (Badwater is 285 feet below sea level).
Fig.5 – Topographical Map of the Badwater area
Rising steeply above the cliff is the aptly named Dantes Peak, 785 feet high, overlooking what must be the nearest thing to `Dante’s Hell’ on Earth – Badwater in Death Valley.
On the western side of the instrument is a vast white salt pan, caused by salt deposits from a spring bubbling up from underground (the `bad water’) (Fig.1&6). This salt pan has a high albedo to sunlight so that the afternoon sun will reflect light and heat off the white expanse directly onto the cliff and the instrument itself. On a bright afternoon, it will act almost like a mirror to sunlight.
Fig.6 – The vast salt pan and salty spring directly to the west of the instrument
In all of Death Valley, the ARC has chosen just about the hottest spot possible in the hottest valley in North America. They have in effect put it into a natural oven – and done so in the full knowledge of Badwater’s topography. Now all they have to do is wait – wait for the inevitable day when the conditions will be just right – clear skies, still air, a blazing sun, and that instrument will heat up from the combined heating of the air, the immense heating from the nearby cliff only metres behind the instrument, the intense reflected heat radiation from the salt pan, and the mercury will very likely fall over the Libyan line and record the `hottest temperature ever measured on earth’.
Then we will see the champagne corks fly as the greenhouse industry will cry with righteous indignation, announcing the `new hottest temperature ever recorded on earth’, how it’s all due to global warming etc. etc. and all the time, the whole thing will be about as fake as a three dollar bill.
Even the wording on the plaque on the instrument betrays the real intent – the exclusive emphasis on the significance of heat, of global warming, of record-breaking temperatures, of the `hottest year ever’ etc. The plaque speaks of little else. Even the opening words of the text are `Carbon dioxide released by human activities etc. ….’. Consequently, it is reasonable to conclude that record-breaking is the primary purpose of the instrument, not genuine climatic research.
Fig.7 – The full information contained on the public plaque
This is further suggested by The Ames Astrogram, February 7, 2000, Page 2, who reported on a field trip by some of its scientists to Death Valley, (among them Dr Chris McKay who is cited on the plaque), and made this reference to the Badwater weather station – “The next stop was Badwater — minus284 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. McKay checked on a weather station he had installed at Badwater two years ago to precisely measure the temperature changes there and monitor global warming — which is much more noticeable in an extremely hot environment like Death Valley. In1999, McKay’s weather station recorded the continent’s highest temperature — a toasty 53.01 C.”
Even here, we have the focus squarely on global warming and breaking records just as on the plaque. ARC even reports the breaking of a continental record. If the Libyan world record of 1922 is broken, as seems inevitable at Badwater eventually, we can expect the full media scare treatment.
Death Valley is an interesting natural phenomenon because this valley is so unique, but the only instrument which will be credible in setting records or trends is the one at Furnace Creek, set properly in the open middle of the valley with a long respectable history of temperature data behind it.
If there is a media announcement of a record being broken at Death Valley, the skeptical observer should immediately demand to know if the record was broken at Furnace Creek, or at Badwater. If it is Furnace Creek, then the record will be quite genuine. But if it is Badwater, then the record will be a complete fake.
Thanks to Jerry Brennan and Miceal O’Ronain for their valuable research contribution – JD
Someday, in the future, this post may be referenced when a new world record temperature is recorded in Death Valley. If there is a new all time high at Badwater, making it the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, I hope a future researcher will point out the siting/placement issue of the station at Badwater. – Anthony
UPDATE: The official press release:
World’s hottest temperature cools a bit
Team of meteorologists overturn a reading from 90 years ago and make Death Valley the holder of the world’s hottest temperature
|IMAGE: This is a drawing of the Six-Bellini thermometer. Image supplied by Paolo Brenni, President of the Scientific Instrument Commission, and courtesy of Library of the Observatorio Astronomico Di Palermo, Gisuseppe…|
TEMPE, Ariz. – If you think this summer was hot, it’s nothing compared to the summer of 1913, when the hottest temperature ever recorded was a searing 134 F in Death Valley, Calif. But while that reading was made 99 years ago, it is only being recognized today by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) as the most extreme temperature ever recorded.
That’s because an international team of meteorologists recently finished an in-depth investigation of what had been the world-record temperature extreme of 58 C (136.4 F), recorded on Sept. 13, 1922 in El Azizia, Libya. The group found that there were enough questions surrounding the measurement and how it was made that it was probably inaccurate, overturning the record 90 years to the day it was recorded.
“We found systematic errors in the 1922 reading,” said Randy Cerveny, an Arizona State University President’s Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “This change to the record books required significant sleuthing and a lot of forensic records work,” added Cerveny, who also is the Rapporteur of Climate and Weather Extremes for the WMO, the person responsible for keeping worldwide weather records.
Officially, the “new” world record temperature extreme is 56.7 C (134 F), recorded on July 10, 1913, at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley, Calif., USA.
“In the heart of every meteorologist and climatologist beats the soul of a detective,” said Cerveny. In this case the weather detectives had to work around an unfolding revolution in Libya.
Cerveny said the El Azizia temperature had long been thought as dubious. It was recorded in 1922 at what then was an Italian army base.
The international meteorological team – which included experts from Libya, Italy, Spain, Egypt, France, Morocco, Argentina, U.S. and the UK – identified five major concerns with the El Azizia temperature record. They included the use of antiquated instrumentation, a likely inexperienced observer, an observation site which was not representative of the desert surroundings, poor matching of the extreme to other nearby locations and poor matching to subsequent temperatures recorded at the site.
The WMO evaluation committee concluded the most compelling scenario for the 1922 event was that a new and inexperienced observer, not trained in the use of an unsuitable replacement instrument that could be easily misread, improperly recorded the observation. The reading was consequently in error by about seven degrees Celsius (12.6 F).
The detective work Cerveny describes included finding and examining the original log sheet, which he said was very useful. In reconstructing the events, Cerveny describes a person new to making temperature measurements being asked to make the measurements with a “Six-Bellini thermometer,” which even by 1922 standards was an obsolete piece of technology. By reviewing the logs, it became apparent that the person who recorded the temperature was transposing what he read from the thermometer, consistently scoring the readings in the wrong column of the log.
“One of the problems with a Six-Bellini thermometer is that the indicator—the pointer—to the temperature scale could conceivably be read at the top of the pointer or the bottom of the pointer,” Cerveny explained. “If an inexperienced observer used the top of the pointer rather than the bottom, he would have been as much as 7 C in error. ”
Other telling forensic information included the general location of where the measurement was made – El Azizia is roughly 35 miles southwest of Tripoli, which is on the Mediterranean coast – and the fact that the record temperature pretty much stood out among all of the other recorded values near the El Azizia location.
“When we compared his observations to surrounding areas and to other measurements made before and after the 1922 reading, they simply didn’t match up,” Cerveny said.
Investigation during a revolution
The investigation was launched in 2010 and soon after the revolution in Libyan started to form. The Libyan official on the team (Khalid El Fadli, director of the climate section of the Libyan National Meteorological Center) fell out of contact with the rest of the team for about eight months and the investigation went into a suspended state. Then El Fadli sent word that he was safe (although he and his family left Tripoli for a while to avoid being accidently shot in the turmoil) and he could resume his role in the investigation. But another three weeks passed before El Fadli was heard from again.
“Khalid El Fadli did this at great risk to himself,” Cerveny said. “He was an official of the previous regime, so when the revolution began to turn, his safety was a key concern.”
Fortunately, after the revolution, El Fadli could resume his duties as a lead meteorologist with the new government and the investigation started up again.
Beyond establishing bragging rights, Cerveny said the world record highest temperature does 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.
Cerveny added that there also are important basic science implications in this finding.
“This investigation demonstrates that, because of continued improvements in meteorology and climatology, researchers can now reanalyze past weather records in much more detail and with greater precision than ever before,” Cerveny explained. “The end result is an even better set of data for analysis of important global and regional questions involving climate change.”
A full list of weather and climate extremes is available at the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes (http://wmo.asu.edu/). This includes the world’s highest and lowest temperatures, rainfall, heaviest hailstone, longest dry period, maximum gust of wind, as well as hemispheric weather and climate extremes.