ENVIRONMENT
08/01/2018 04:34 pm ET Updated Aug 01, 2018

Death Valley Records Planet’s Hottest Month, Scientists Warn It May Become Uninhabitable

The "business-as-usual warming of the planet" could make areas too warm for human habitation if heat trends continue, climate researchers say.

It was an average 108.1 degrees in California’s Death Valley national park in July, marking the hottest month ever recorded anywhere on Earth.

The temperatures recorded at one of the park’s main weather stations were first reported in Forbes by Brian Brettschneider, a climate researcher at the University of Alaska. The scorching average daily temperature, he said, knocks Death Valley’s marginally cooler July 2017 from its spot as the planet’s hottest month on record.

For four days in a row starting July 24, temperatures peaked for the month at an unimaginable 127 degrees ― setting daily records each day. According to data published Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, daily highs never dipped below 113 degrees, and there were at least 10 days where the daily low never sank below 100 degrees.

People walk through Death Valley in July 2017, the month previously recorded as the planet's hottest.
Ezra Shaw via Getty Images
People walk through Death Valley in July 2017, the month previously recorded as the planet's hottest.

The trend forces the question: Will the already scorching Death Valley become completely inhospitable to humans in the near future? 

″[F]or all intents and purposes, large swaths of the tropics and subtropics (including Death Valley) are likely to become too warm for human habitation under continued business-as-usual warming of the planet,” said Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.

Like the planet overall, rising temperatures in the already scorching Death Valley are linked to climate change driven by human activity, Mann said. But he added there are likely other normal weather fluctuations at play.

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s a combination of both,” he said. “Overall warming means that we see more of these heat extremes and temperature records. But our own work suggests that stalled weather systems caused by a weakening and changing jet stream are probably playing with the unprecedented weather extremes we’re seeing around the world, and our own work suggests that climate change is likely playing a role here as well.”

The jet stream, a flow of wind that continuously circles the Northern Hemisphere, has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over the parts of the hemisphere, a study in January found. When it passes over the Pacific or Atlantic oceans, it may change pressure systems and wind patterns in different parts of the world, including North America, and cause extreme weather to “stall” in one place.

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