The hottest places on Earth: Where the sun’s fury is unleashed

When we think of extreme heat, visions of arid deserts, parched landscapes, and relentless sun immediately come to mind. While many places on Earth experience scorching temperatures, only a few hold the records for being the hottest. These regions are not just hot; they are furnaces where the heat can be unbearable, even deadly. In this article, we will explore some of the hottest places on Earth and delve into the meteorological phenomena that make these locations so extreme.

Measuring extreme temperatures

Temperature is typically measured using thermometers placed in standardized shelters to protect them from direct sunlight, allowing for more accurate readings of air temperature. Surface temperatures, however, can be much higher and are often recorded via satellite or ground measurements. This makes comparing temperatures challenging, as older records may not be as reliable as modern data due to inconsistencies in measurement methods. Despite these challenges, certain locations have consistently recorded extreme temperatures that place them among the hottest on Earth.

6. Ahvaz, Iran

Highest temperature: 53.7°C (129°F) in 2017

Ahvaz, a city in southwestern Iran, is known for its extreme temperatures. The city is also home to the stunning White Bridge (Pol-e Sefid), an iconic landmark that spans the Karun River and is illuminated beautifully at night.

The White Bridge in Ahvaz, Iran. Image by Sajjadsoroosh

The White Bridge in Ahvaz, Iran. Image by Sajjadsoroosh

Factors contributing to Ahvaz’s heat

  • Ahvaz is located near the Lut Desert, contributing to the high temperatures.
  • Urban heat island effect: The urban environment of Ahvaz can further amplify temperatures due to the heat retention of buildings and pavement.

5. Mitribah, Kuwait

Highest temperature: 54°C (129.2°F) in 2016

Mitribah, a remote area in Kuwait, recorded one of the highest temperatures on Earth.

The skyline of Al Kuwayt, the capital of Kuwait. Image by SenuScape

The skyline of Al Kuwayt, the capital of Kuwait. Image by SenuScape

Factors contributing to Mitribah’s heat

  • Desert environment: Mitribah is situated in a desert climate with extreme heat and minimal precipitation.
  • High-pressure systems: Persistent high-pressure systems in the region contribute to clear skies and prolonged sunshine.

4. Dallol, Ethiopia

Average daily temperatures: Exceed 40°C (104°F) with highs approaching 48.9°C (120°F)

Dallol, located in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, is one of the hottest inhabited places on Earth. Dallol is known for its otherworldly landscape, including colorful hydrothermal deposits and acidic hot springs, making it a popular site for adventurous travelers.

The Dallol volcano. Image by A. Savin

The Dallol volcano. Image by A. Savin

Factors contributing to Dallol’s heat

  • Geothermal activity: The region’s geothermal activity contributes to the high temperatures.
  • Desert climate: The arid climate exacerbates the heat.

3. Sahara Desert, North Africa

Highest verified temperature: 124.3°F (51.3°C) in 2018

The Sahara Desert, the world’s largest hot desert, spans several North African countries and experiences extreme heat, especially in the central regions. In El Azizia, Libya, a temperature of 57.8°C (136°F) was once recorded, though this measurement is disputed. Kebili, a desert town in Tunisia, is also known for recording one of the highest temperatures in Africa: in 1931, a temperature of 55°C (131°F) was reported, although this record is similarly considered less reliable than modern data. A much more verifiable record for the Sahara was set during the 2018 heat wave, measuring 51.3°C (124.3°F).

The Sahara Desert. Image by Greg Gulik

The Sahara Desert. Image by Greg Gulik

Meteorological dynamics in the Sahara

  • High insolation: The Sahara receives some of the highest amounts of solar radiation on Earth.
  • Arid climate: The dry conditions mean there is very little evaporation to cool the air, leading to high temperatures.
  • Sand and rock composition: The sandy and rocky terrain absorbs and radiates heat efficiently.

2. Lut Desert, Iran

Highest ground temperature: 70.7°C (159.3°F) in 2005

The Lut Desert, or Dasht-e Lut, in southeastern Iran, is one of the hottest places on Earth in terms of surface temperature. According to NASA’s satellite data, this desert holds the record for the highest ground temperature ever recorded: an astonishing 159.3°F (70.7°C) in 2005. The Lut Desert is a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its stunning geological formations, including the massive Yardangs — wind-carved ridges and grooves that stretch for miles.

Dasht-e Lut, an aerial view. Image by Ninaras

Dasht-e Lut, an aerial view. Image by Ninaras

Meteorological factors in the Lut Desert

  • Surface composition: The desert features dark lava surfaces, which absorb a significant amount of solar radiation, leading to extremely high surface temperatures.
  • Dry air: The arid climate means there is very little moisture in the air to absorb heat, allowing surface temperatures to soar.
  • Seasonal variations: During the summer months, the lack of vegetation and moisture leads to minimal cooling at night, keeping the temperatures high.

1. Death Valley, California, USA

Highest air temperature: 53.7°C (129°F) in 2017

Located in the Mojave Desert in eastern California, Death Valley is a place synonymous with extreme heat. Furnace Creek in Death Valley recorded the highest air temperature ever observed on our planet. While many records are hard to verify, Death Valley remains the undisputed hottest place on Earth.

Death Valley National Park. Image by Abby Kihano

Death Valley National Park. Image by Abby Kihano

Why is Death Valley so hot?

  • Geography and topography: Death Valley is a below-sea-level basin surrounded by high, steep mountain ranges. This topography contributes to a phenomenon known as a “rain shadow,” where mountains block the passage of rain-producing weather systems, leading to arid conditions.
  • Albedo effect: The valley’s floor consists of light-colored salt flats, which reflect sunlight and intensify the heat.
  • High-pressure systems: Persistent high-pressure systems often dominate the region, leading to clear skies and prolonged sunshine.

The hottest places on Earth are fascinating examples of how geography, atmospheric conditions, and human factors interact to create extreme environments. Understanding these factors not only satisfies our curiosity but also highlights the challenges faced by people living in these regions. As climate change continues to impact global weather patterns, we could see even more record-setting temperatures in these places as well as other parts of the world. Studying these hotspots provides valuable, actionable insights into the future of our planet’s climate.

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