A record-breaking heat wave sent U.S. temperatures skyrocketing this week, and with most days hovering around the triple digits on the East Coast and beyond, Americans have not been shy in expressing their dissatisfaction. The brutal weather, along with a spate of wildfires and storms, has rekindled the debate on climate change and prompted all manner of warnings about heat exhaustion and stroke.
Of course, it could be much worse. Although there's no set maximum temperature that humans can withstand (humidity level is the determining factor), heat indexes spiking 125 degrees Fahrenheit in Africa and Asia test the limits of what's livable -- and that's not even the worst of the worst. Here, we take a tour of the 10 places where the world's hottest temperatures have been recorded. So stop your whining; this week's heat is bad, but it's no Lut Desert.
1. Lut Desert, Iran -- 159 degrees F
In 2005, history's hottest surface temperature was recorded in a dry salt lake in eastern Iran's Lut Desert. The Lut Desert is too hot even for milk to spoil because bacteria can't grow in temperatures that high -- after researchers left sterilized milk uncovered and found it unspoiled, the Lut Desert was declared an abiotic zone. Described by Google Sightseeing as the "most deserty" of the world's deserts, Lut is completely surrounded by mountains and is also home to the world's tallest sand pyramid.
Above, sand pyramids are seen in Iran's Lut Desert.
2. Queensland, Australia -- 156 degrees
A rugged and remote swath of land in Australia's northeastern state of Queensland, the badlands are neck-and-neck with Lut for the hottest place on Earth, sometimes surpassing the Iranian desert for the highest temperatures of the year. Queensland's highest thermal reading, almost 157 degrees Fahrenheit, was recorded in 2003.
Both the heat and a history of murders in these Australian badlands make the region nearly uninhabitable. Cold water currents from Antarctica are one reason that the badlands are so scorchingly hot; cold water does not evaporate to form rain clouds nearly as easily as warm water.
Above, extreme heat in Australia's outback cracks the ground during an especially dry season.
3. Turpan Depression, China -- 152 degrees
The second-lowest place on Earth, the Turpan Depression, is a 508-foot deep mountain basin that lies in the Taklimakan desert in China's autonomous region of Xinjiang. The average maximum temperature in Turpan is 102 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months, which are long and dry in this desert climate.
Strangely, China's lowest temperature ever recorded was also in Xinjiang, in Fuyun county. Despite Turpan's extreme temperatures, thousands of people do live there. Xinjiang's predominantly Uighur population irrigates the basin and produces significant amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Above, people bury their limbs beneath the sand along the Flaming Mountains in Turpan, which is thought to cure ailments.
4. El Azizia, Libya -- 136 degrees
On Sept. 13, 1922, the hottest shade temperature was recorded in El Azizia, a city in northwestern Libya. Winds blowing off the Sahara Desert to the south can change the temperature by almost 20 degrees in a matter of hours.
Despite a maximum average of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, over 300,000 people live in this city, the capital of Jafara district. It's a hotspot for trade as well as temperatures, perched on an important trade route between the Mediterranean coast and Libya's southern regions.
Above, a Libyan soldier feeds camels in the Libyan Desert outside Bani Walid, an oasis town similar to El Azizia, about 90 miles away.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
5. Death Valley, USA -- 134 degrees
A desert basin in the U.S. state of California, Death Valley is a national park with topography ranging from snowy mountain peaks to a salt pan that stretches for 200 square miles. In July, Death Valley's hottest month, the average temperature
sis 115 degrees Fahrenheit, but the heat index regularly reaches 125.
It's the hottest, lowest place in the United States, making it void of life except for tourists and employees of the National Park Service.
Pictured above are sand dunes near the village of Stovepipe Wells, a way-station in the northern part of the valley.
6. Ghadames, Libya -- 131 degrees
Referred to as the "Pearl of the Sahara," the oasis city of Ghadames is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the edge of the Sahara. Many of the city's streets are covered to shade the roughly 7,000 Berbers who live there. The average maximum temperature in the hottest month is 106 degrees -- a walk in the park compared with the city's brutal record-setting days.
Above, Tuareg women take pictures of hot air balloons flying over the desert of Ghadames in 2009 as part of a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of then Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's rise to power.
7. Kebili, Tunisia -- 131 degrees
Tied with Ghadames is Kebili, a desert oasis in central Tunisia. Despite the scorching heat in summer and frigid winters, Kebili is the earliest inhabited city in Tunisia and is home to some 18,000 people.
Here, a herder and his animals search for food in sand dunes near the southern Tunisian town of Douz, just south of Kebili.
8. Timbuktu, Mali -- 130.1 degrees
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Timbuktu lies at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Mali, West Africa. Once a prominent trade post and center of Islamic learning, Timbuktu is now an administrative center with a population of roughly 32,000 people. In May, the highest monthly average temperature is 109 degrees Fahrenheit.
On July 1, al Qaeda affiliates launched a series of attacks on some of Timbuktu's oldest shrines to condemn "idol worship."
Above, men involved in the restoration of Timbuktu's Sankore Mosque. Sankore is one of three ancient centers of learning located in the city, though preservations now warn that the site could be in danger.
9. Tirat Tsvi, Israel -- 129 degrees
The kibbutz of Tirat Tsvi lies 722 feet below sea level, just a few miles west of the Jordanian border. In 1942, its highest temperature of 129 degrees was recorded, the hottest in Asia at the time. Tirat Tsvi has a population of less than 1,000, but is the country's largest producer of dates, with over 18,000 trees braving the scorching weather.
Pictured above is a tower in the Beit Shean Valley, six miles from the Tirat Tsvi kibbutz.
A city of 15,000 at the northernmost tip of Sudan, Wadi Halfa is a valley at the edge of the Nubian Desert that boasts priceless ruins along with its sweltering heat. In the summer months, temperatures average around 108 degrees. Wadi Halfa is still an important trading center, at the nexus of rail and steamship lines between Egypt and Sudan.
A Sudanese man rides his camel in front of pyramids in the Meroe desert, between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum.
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