The Challenges of Extreme Environments
This page develops resources and lesson activities on both the physical and human challenges of living in extreme environments. It combines a combination of skill-based activities with insightful place locations and resources. There is also an in-depth investigation that students can either do in the classroom or at home based on the challenges of the mining industry in Western Australia. There are additional resources that then go as extension work to introduce indigenous economy and the values of their economic system. The students are introduced to a number of examples of tribal indigenous groups and their adaptations to live in extreme environments.
What are the physical and human challenges of living in extreme environments?
Lesson Time: 2-3 Hours
- To describe the physical and human challenges of living in extreme environments
- To investigate the challenges of living in remote mining communities in Australia
- To describe ways humans adapt to living in extreme environments
Starter Activity_Place, Processes and Possibilities_ Video Activity Based on BBC's Human Planet
Watch the following clip taken from BBC's Human Planet series and make a list of the different challenges of living in an extreme environment.
Mind map example - show as follow up to student activity
The Challenges of Living in Extreme Environments
Extreme environments by their very nature suggest that human habitation poses many challenges. Extreme dry and arid environments offer little in the way of natural resources, such as clean water and fertile soil to support humans. However, this is not to say that it is impossible to support life. There are many examples of indigenous groups that live a subsistence existence within and around the fringes of both cold and hot deserts. However, population density for these regions is very low. For example the Western Sahara has as little as 1 person for every 1km and the country of Namibia has only 2 people per km. The map below shows a distinct pattern of low population density in all the extreme environments.
World Population Density - Spot the extreme environments
Both hot and cold deserts with their absence of water and vegetation lead to a migratory lifestyle, with many nomadic herders moving cattle, goats and camel across miles of desert and arid regions, which in Africa can be transnational. The Aborigines of Australia are notorious for their hunting and gathering skills and many indigenous tribes of both East and West Africa like the Fulani of Niger are traveling thousands of miles in their search for good pasture.
Similarly, cold Polar Regions and tundra as well as high mountainous regions pose problems for human existence. Generally speaking the polar environments are too extreme to support life and are mainly absent of permanent human settlements. Economic activity develops around mineral resources, such as in Alaska and Yamal Peninsular in Siberia. Here significant human investment develops settlement and exploits vast quantities of oil and gas. The only true surviving indigenous Polar group today is the Nenet people of the Yamal Peninsular who are nomadic reindeer herders
Mountainous regions vary enormously at both the regional and local scale. Low lying valley settlements act as economic cores within the region but in remoter less accessible regions it is impossible to support settlements and these areas are increasingly experiencing outward migration. At the local scale, aspect makes a big difference. South facing slopes in the northern hemisphere receive more solar radiation and consequently support more vegetation and human habitation. North facing slopes are cold and high altitudes become the seeding ground for valley glaciers. Generally mountainous areas only support a thin soil base and this is often lost by rapid rates of erosion and surface run-off.
Student Activity_Place and Possibilities_ Video Activity based on BBC's Human Planet
Watch the following clip from BBC's Human Planet series showing the precarious existence of the Wolaita tribe in Ethiopia
Despite climate and remoteness being clear barriers to human habitation this is not to say that human development is not possible. Mountainous regions by their very nature are generally inaccessible and transport routes are dangerous and slow. However, in post glacial environments, valley glaciers leave behind wide u-shaped valleys that have breached mountain sides creating perfect transport routes for car and rail. With human effort, investment and creativity development is possible provided the climatic conditions allow. Post-glacial environments with hanging valley features provide superb potential for hydro-electric power due to the high relief watersheds and the steep relief and deep lakes left behind by glaciers. Glacial environments have also cut out the landscape, which enables the development of mining industries. In more accessible terrain there also excellent opportunities for adventure tourism and countries like Nepal and Peru have really prospered from this and countries like Nepal and Peru have really prospered from this
Student Activity_Spatial Interactions and Scale_OS Map Activity
Click on the image below to open the streetmap link.
Describe the factors that make this environment extreme
Student Activity_Processes and Possibilities_The Challenges of Cold Environments
The following gallery shows images relates to the challenges and problems of living and extracting resources from cold environments, mainly regions of permafrost in Alaska, Northern Canada and Russia.
View the gallery and make note of the challenges that you identify.
Students Assessment - Investigation_Place, Power and Possibilities -The Challenges of Mining in Western Australia
Students should investigate and write a report on the challenges of mining settlements in Western Australia. Use the following PDF worksheet and Blendspace to focus student's research.
The best examples of human adaptation to extreme environments can be drawn from indigenous economies, of which there are many examples. People such as the Inuit on Alaska and Nenet in Siberia live in the harshest of climatic conditions and so have adapted a coexistence with their environment. This involves mainly a nomadic lifestyle. Other groups such as the Toubou of the Sahara live mainly a sedentary life but in extremely remote regions. Their economy requires them to make perilous journeys across the desert in order to trade.
Indigenous Economy and Indigenous Knowledge
In order to show an understanding of how human adaptation to extreme weather and climate it is important to have a knowledge of indigenous economy.
Student Activity_Place and Processes_Introduction to Indigenous Economy
Read the following PDF and answer the questions on the worksheet
Student Activity_Place and Processes_ Identifying Indigenous Knowledge
Indigenous people who's families have known and adapted to living in extreme environments the best show remarkable abilities and knowledge to live and exist in extreme environments, despite the challenges.
Watch the following clips and complete the noting sheet on indigenous knowledge and adaptation to extreme weather and climate.
Touboo Tribe, Sahara - Film - no commentary
The San People, Kalahari Desert
Dorobo Tribe, Kenya
Nenet Nomads, Siberia
The Challenges of Avalanches
There are also many examples of adaptation to extreme weather and climate by modern society. In places like Alpine mountain regions, such as in Switzerland, engineering has opened up previously inaccessible areas with mountain roads, tunnels and lifts. As a result successful rural economies have established most notably tourism, especially the tourism industry. In order to maintain the safety of tourists in mountain environments authorities take important steps to control risks, as the following clip illustrates.
In periglacial environments, the upper part often thaws and is known as the active layer. In order to adapt to this process, infrastructure needs to be built above the active layer. You can see see examples of this in the slideshow below