Mock 2007 Pre-release session 8

Study resource 18.

Which of the photos shows our extreme environment?

In this case Antarctica would be photograph A, a polar region.

Remember that an extreme environment exhibits a harsh, and challenging, climate and landscape that makes it difficult to sustain human life.

Why would Antarctica be classed as an extreme environment?

  • The extremely low temperatures that make it difficult to work and live, humans are at risk of frostbite and hypothermia. Vostok on average in Winter is -60.
  • The low precipitation that makes fresh water difficult to find, without fuel needed to melt ice. Remember that Antarctica is a desert.
  • The strong katabatic winds that make working and travelling difficult.
  • The challenging landscape, covered by a thick ice sheet, that makes it impossible to farm, extract natural resources and travel.
  • Natural hazards that occur as a result of the climate and landscape, such as sustrugi, blizzards, whiteouts, crevasses.
  • Periods of 24 hour darkness during its winter, because the South Hemisphere is titled away from the sun, making work and travel difficult, but also causing mental problems, such as depression, for humans.
  • The remoteness of the area, it is difficult to get to, particularly during winter, because of the cold air temperatures making flights difficult and cold ocean temperatures resulting in pack ice on sea.

How is our extreme environment used by people?

There is a number of ways that Antarctica is used by people.

  • Tourism. Around 30,000 people a year travel to Antarctica to see the beauty of one of the last wildernesses on Earth. People may be interested in the natural landscape, the wildlife or wish to follow in the footsteps of past explorers such as Scott and Shackleton, so called heritage tourists.
  • Challenge. Some people decide not to take the tourist route, but use Antarctica’s environment for personal challenge, explorers such as Andrew Cooney. Antarctica is also used by extreme sports enthusiasts for rock climbing.
  • Scientific research. As Antarctica is remote and distance from major centres of population, it is particularly useful location to do research. Scientists have measured levels of Ozone in the atmosphere and in the 1980’s discovered a depletion, the so called ‘hole in the Ozone’. Scientists can also get more accurate reading of atmospheric pollutants such as carbon dioxide. There is much climate change research taking place in Antarctica, the taking of ice cores, to estimate past carbon dioxide levels, recording sea temperatures, measuring the thickness of ice sheets using sonar and tracking the movement of the ice sheet via GPS. Biologists also study the unique flora and fauna in the area and how it is adapting to a changing climate.
  • Resource exploitation. Though mineral resource exploitation is banned under the Antarctica Treaty, and not cost-effective at the moment, it hasn’t stopped Governments from prospecting for minerals. Recently the U.K. has applied for recognition of its claim for areas of seabed around Antarctica, which are rich in oil reserves. Fishing, particularly, for krill is another use for the sea surrounding Antarctica, Krill is used in foodstuffs, particularly in Japan and as food for aquaculture and as bait for fishermen.
  • Cultural Turn. Antarctica is seen as a good setting or place for entertainment, whether fact or fiction, t.v. documentaries such as Michael Palin’s ‘Pole to Pole’ and David Attenborough’s ‘Life in the Freezer’ , ‘March of the Penguins’, to ‘Happy Feet’ and ‘Ice Age’. Some people have also been inspired by the environment to produce art, from classical pieces of music such as Vaughan Williams ‘Symphony Antarctica’ to indie-pop Nevermind’s ‘Antarctica’.

Any others?

Last post tomorrow.

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