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Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society


American Meteorological Society

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Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Life Sciences | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


The location of the hottest spot on Earth has undoubtedly been an interesting curiosity for centuries. Even with the advent of the instrumental temperature record around the year 1850, the location of the hottest spot on Earth has continued to be the subject of debate and controversy. In 1913, the weather station at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, California, measured an air temperature of 56.7°C (134.1°F) and claimed the title of “hottest place on Earth.” Nine years later in El Azizia, Libya, an air temperature of 57.8°C (136°F) was recorded on land owned by an Italian farmer and the title of the “hottest place on Earth” moved from the United States to Libya. The 1922 air temperature measurement from El Azizia has never been surpassed.

In reality, finding the hottest spot on Earth based on scattered site-based air temperature measurements is a limited approach due to the poor spatial coverage of the instruments where measurements are taken compared with Earth’s expansive barren deserts where the hottest conditions occur. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has approximately 11,119 weather stations on Earth’s land surface collecting surface temperature observations ( When compared to the 144.68 million km2 of land surface, that’s one station every 13,012 km2. The Earth’s hot deserts, such as the Sahara, the Gobi, the Sonoran, and the Lut, are climatically harsh and so remote that access for routine measurements and maintenance of a weather station is impractical. The majority of Earth’s potentially hottest spots are simply not being directly measured by ground-based instruments. Satellites provide a continuous view of Earth’s surface, allowing equal observation of the most remote areas and the most accessible. However, satellites do not measure the near-surface air temperature; instead they measure the radiometric surface temperature, or skin temperature, a different physical parameter.


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© 2011 American Meteorological Society