Thermometers rose well above 54 degrees Celsius on Sunday afternoon in California's Death Valley, prompting concern from climate scientists
Sweltering heat pushed temperatures above 54 degrees in California on Sunday, potentially setting a new record for the highest temperature ever recorded and fuelling concerns over the accelerating impacts of the planet's changing climate.
A thermometer reading of of 54.4°C was recorded at 15:41 in Death Valley, California, which if verified may set the record for the highest temperature ever recorded, according to scientists.
A higher temperature reading was set last century in 1913 - also in Death Valley - of 56.7°C, but that reading is now considered to have been inaccurate, paving the way for Sunday's 54.4°C to claim the ominous accolade.
Scientists broadly describe such extreme heat as a predictable consequence of human-caused climate change. A 2017 study from Stanford University concluded that at least 82 per cent of heat records have been driven by human-made climate change, while another recent analysis from the Dutch Meterological Insitute confirmed that the highest daily average temperatures are higher today than they were a century ago at nearly every point on the globe.
Commenting on the latest temperature record, world-renowned climate scientist Michael E. Mann, a Professor at Pennsylvania State University, warned that as the planet continues to warm "it is inevitable that we will continue to see records fall".
"It now appears that we've crossed yet another worrying threshold, setting the apparent hottest temperature ever recorded on this planet since valid records have been kept," he said. "Of course, that record too shall fall soon enough if we continue to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities."
Elsewhere, meanwhile, the consequences of climatic shifts are being marked agricultural production, including in the UK where farmers have warned that 2020's wheat harvest set to be substantially down again this year, having been hit by consecutive seasons of extreme weather.
National Farmers' Union (NFU) vice president Tom Bradshaw told the Guardian yesterday that yields could be down by about a third, resulting in the worst harvest since the eighties. Problems began at the start of the year, he explained, with the wettest February ever recorded, marked by storms Ciara and Dennis, followed by an unusually dry spring. Initially good growing conditions in the summer then also gave way to a mini-heatwave that broke with severe thunderstorms last week.
Such see-sawing between extremes results in very challenging conditions for wheat farmers, said Bradshaw. "What we are seeing is more extremes of weather," he said. "Dry and wet weather seem to get stuck in patterns."
Farmers may have to consider working with new crops such as maize and soybeans, he added, as well as shifting land management practices to account for a more variable climate. "There has been more focus on soils, how they can store more water to be more resilient," he said. "And we are looking at more spring crops to spread the risk across the year."
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