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Extreme environments

This optional theme considers two different kinds of extreme environment.

  • Cold and high-altitude environments (polar, glacial areas, periglacial areas, high mountains in non‑tropical latitudes)
  • Hot, arid environments (hot deserts and semi‑arid areas)

These environments are relatively inaccessible and tend to be viewed as inhospitable to human habitation. Despite this, they provide numerous opportunities for settlement and economic activity. This theme examines the essential landscape characteristics of the two kinds of extreme environment, together with the natural processes operating in them, and the way in which people have responded to the opportunities they offer and the challenges they pose for management and sustainability.

 

1.Challenging environments

Global distribution of extreme environments – Explain the global distribution of each of the two kinds of extreme environment.

Describe the relief and climatic characteristics that make these environments extreme. Explain how these characteristics present challenges for resource development and human habitation. (4 hours)

Population – Explain the other factors responsible for a low density of population in these areas: human discomfort, inaccessibility, remoteness.

Identify ways in which people adapt their activities to extremes of weather and climate. (2 hours)

2.The physical characteristics of extremeenvironments

Glacial environment – Explain the advance and retreat of glaciers and the main features resulting from the processes of erosion and deposition by glaciers. (3 hours)

Periglacial environment – Explain permafrost, patterned ground, solifluction, thermokarst, pingos. (3 hours)

Hot, arid environments (hot deserts and semi‑arid areas) – Explain weathering and the processes involved in wind- and water‑formed features. Explain the occurrence of flash floods. (4 hours)

 

3. Opportunities and challenges for management

Agriculture – Hot, arid areas: examine the opportunities for agriculture in these areas, the distinction between aridity and infertility, the importance of irrigation and risk of salinization, and the processes and factors involved in desertification. (4 hours)

 

Mineral extraction – Periglacial areas: examine the opportunities and challenges posed by permafrost and other characteristics of periglacial areas for resource development (mineral extraction and any associated settlement and communications). (2 hours)

                                                           Hot, arid areas: examine the opportunities and challenges posed for resource development (mineral extraction and any associated settlement and communications). (2 hours)

 

Tourism – Examine the opportunities and challenges posed by the development of tourism and any associated settlement and communications in one type of extreme environment. Examine the impacts of tourism on the environment, such as mass movements and erosion, land degradation, vulnerability to hazards, aesthetic change, water usage and waste disposal. (3 hours)

4. Sustainability

Human activity – Discuss the degree to which human activities in extreme environments are unsustainable.

Impact – Discuss the potential impact of global climatic change (global warming) on the indigenous populations, settlement and economic activities in extreme environments. (3 hours with the above)

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