The Lut Desert in Iran as seen in infrared wavelengths, taken by the Landsat 7 satellite on July 6, 1999.
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Wide, Wild World
With everything that progress has brought in our modern world, it's refreshing to know that there are still places on the planet that are virtually untouched -- places where humans haven't completely tainted the environment. Some areas may be on the fringe of impurity, but fortunately there are several lucky locations have been designated as conservancies, so that future generations can remember them as we have. Here are ten of these places of our wide, wild world:
Northern Territories of Canada
Sparsely populated mostly by people of native North American Indian and Inuit descent, Canada's three northern territories -- Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut -- still retain lifestyles before European colonization of the New World. Sure there is a Western influence, but locals still fish, hunt, and gather in the pristine, forested wilderness as they have been for centuries.
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Above the 50th parallel on the other side of the world lies Siberia, a place almost synonymous with desolation. Like the Canadian North, this wild expanse is also mostly comprised of taiga forest on former glaciated territory -- areas that are blanketed white during harsh, long winters.
Credit: Erik R. Trinidad
Tourism may be a huge draw to this Ecuadorian archipelago in the Pacific, but a lot of money collected here goes towards the conservation of its numerous islands-land its wildlife. It is here that animal species are specialized on each island's unique environments -- including marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and frigatebirds -- that research about them became an integral part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
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The Seychelles may be a well-sought out islands beach destination, but tourism hasn't completed tainted them. In fact, this archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean has the largest percentage of land under conservation by law, of any country in the world -- about 50 percent -- which is good news for the over 2,000 endemic species that live there.
Credit: Erik R. Trinidad
Being on the bottom of the world brings forth the coldest, windiest, and driest conditions on the planet. It's no wonder most of it is untouched by man. Besides a few research bases scattered sparsely around the icy continent, Antarctica is virtually uninhabited -- except by the iconic penguins of course, who might want to leave themselves if only they had the ability to fly -- and if they hadn't been adapted for the extreme conditions already.
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The Sahara may be the second largest desert in the world -- Antarctica, with only 2" of rain per year is technically the world's biggest desert but it certainly is the biggest one you think of when you conventionally think about the desert ecosystem. With 3.5 million square miles of barren land full of wind-carved sand dunes, it brings forth daytime heatwaves and harsh dry conditions unappealing to most civilizations; it's wild because most people couldn't live there.
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7. The Gobi Desert
Situated in Mongolia, the largest desert in Asia is actually growing, with sands overtaking grasslands in northern China -- which isn't good news for Chinese farmers. Perhaps it's Mother Nature's way of taking back her sandy wilderness, making conditions uninhabitable for humans.
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It it believed that the cures for many of mankind's diseases could be found in the Amazon Rainforest -- the world's largest -- which encompasses most of northern inland South America. Plenty of conservancies want to keep it this way, for the Amazon is under constant threat of deforestation for the timber industry and cattle ranching, amongst other consequences of progress.
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Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea's environment is also its defense mechanism. Its rugged terrain of rolling volcanic hills and thick tropical rainforest have made it difficult for outside companies to exploit its natural resources. It's also made it hard to establish a transportation network, leaving the wilderness for the most part, undisturbed.
The Briny Deep
It's astounding that with everything humans have done to inhabited a lot of the landmass on the planet, about 70% of it remains uninhabited because it is water. The oceans, vast and seemingly limitless, are an innerspace full of many things that we probably don't even know about yet. It's taken centuries for humans to actually explore the deepest part of the ocean, Mariana's Trench, and we only saw a mere fraction of it. There's a whole wild world within our world, yet to be explored-or remain untouched?
- Infrared data from Landsat satellites show the Lut Desert in Iran reached a blistering 159.3 F in 2005.
- The location of the hottest place on Earth can shift from year to year.
- Most hot spots are too hot and remote for ground-based instruments.
The title of "world's hottest place" is often bestowed upon El Azizia, Libya, where the highest temperature ever measured on Earth was recorded, but a study of satellite temperature data shows that the crown belongs elsewhere, and that it can shift from year to year.
El Azizia took the record for highest temperature ever recorded on Sept. 13, 1922, when a thermometer on a weather station hit a whopping 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius), thanks to southerly winds blowing in hot air from over the Sahara Desert. The sweltering temperature displaced the previous record holder of 134 F, measured at the Furnace Creek weather station in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
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But neither of these places, hot though they may be, deserves the banner of "hottest place on Earth," according to new research by a University of Montana team using data from the U.S. Geological Survey's Landsat satellites.
"Most of the places that call themselves the hottest on Earth are not even serious contenders," said team member Steven Running in a NASA statement.
Running and his colleagues examined seven years of infrared data (which indicates temperature) from the Landsat satellites, and found that the winner in five of those years was actually the Lut Desert in Iran.
The reason Lut didn't previously make the list was because "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," said team member David Mildrexler. "The majority of Earth's hottest spots are simply not being directly measured by ground-based instruments."
Satellites, on the other hand, can get a reading on these hard-to-reach, harsh places because they can scan every piece of the Earth's surface. The satellites take what is called "land skin temperature," which tells the amount of heating of a certain parcel of ground from the sun, the atmosphere and other heat sources. The temperatures measured at weather stations, on the other hands, are taken a couple meters above the ground.
The single highest land skin temperature recorded in any year of the study was found in the Lut Desert in 2005 and measured a stunning 159.3 F (70.7 C). Lut had the highest surface temperature in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009 as well.
While the location of the hottest place on Earth might shift from year to year, the conditions that give rise to it remain the same: Dry, rocky and dark-colored lands are good at absorbing heat, while lighter sand will tend to reflect more sunlight. When comparing natural-color images from Landsat of the Lut Desert to the infrared images, the darker areas show up as the hottest ones.
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