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CLIMATE &

ECOSYSTE
MS
5th form
IGCSE GEOGRAPHY

BOOKLET 1: TROPICAL RAINFOREST


CLIMATES

NAME
..

UNIT LEARNING OBJECTIVES


CLIMATE
Describe and explain the main characteristics of the two climate zones - tropical rainforest and
tropical desert:
temperature mean temperature of the hottest month, mean temperature of the coolest
month, therefore the annual range;
rainfall the amount and seasonal distribution; other climate features wind, cloud,
humidity, etc.
Factors influencing these characteristics should be noted such as latitude, pressure systems
and the winds to which they give rise, distance from the sea, altitude and ocean currents.
Candidates should be familiar with climatic graphs showing the main characteristics of
temperature and rainfall of the climates in the regions listed.
ECOSYSTEMS
Describe the characteristics and distribution of the two ecosystems (tropical rainforest and
tropical desert).
Explain the relationship in each ecosystem of natural vegetation, wildlife and climate.
Interrelationships between the natural environment and human activitiesThe impact of
human activities on the two ecosystems (tropical rainforest and tropical desert) should be

Climate

Climate zone
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EQUATORIAL (TROPICAL RAINFOREST)


CLIMATE
The tropical rainforest is a biome with a constant temperature and a high rainfall.
The level of humidity and density of the vegetation give the ecosystem a unique
water and nutrient cycle. Rainforests around the world are threatened by human
expansion.

WHERE

IN THE WORLD DO WE FIND EQUATORIAL CLIMATE ZONES?

Tropical forests are found near the equator in Central and South America, parts of Africa and
Asia. They are hot and humid and contain a huge variety of plants and animals - around half
of all the world's species. The trees are mostly hardwood. The climate is called equatorial.

All the areas with an equatorial climate are lowlands. In the Americas, a narrow strip formed
by the Andes Mountains separates the Amazon Basin from a smaller area of equatorial climate
in coastal Columbia, Panama and Costa Rica. The Andes have a much colder climate because
temperature falls as the altitude increase. For the same reason, the area of equatorial climate
in Africa does not extend right along the equator to the east coast the altitude of the East
African Plateau reduces the temperature, for example Mount Kilimanjaro (located at 3S) is
even snow capped
TASK:
1. Shade in the equatorial climate zone on the map above.
2. Label on the map above the main areas with an equatorial climate lie within 10
latitude of the equator

the Amazon Basin, South America


Congo Basin, Central Africa (with an extension westwards along a narrow coastal strip in
southern West Africa)
Malaysian Peninsula and islands of South East Asia, which include Singapore

TROPICAL RAINFOREST CLIMATE


A tropical rainforest biome is found in hot, humid
environments in equatorial climates. They contain
the most diverse range and highest volume of
plant and animal life found anywhere on earth
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/habitats/tropical_and_subtropical_moist_broadleaf_forests
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/places/Amazon_Basin

In general, tropical rainforests have hot and humid climates where it rains virtually everyday.
The level of rainfall depends on the time of year. Temperatures vary through the year - but
much less than the rainfall.

The graph shows average rainfall and temperature in Manaus, Brazil, in the Amazon
rainforest.

The rainy season is from__________________ to __________________


Notice how much the rainfall varies over the year - the highest monthly rainfall is in
_____________ with over _______________ , while the lowest is in ____________with less
than ______mm.
Over the year, the temperature only varies by 2C.
Annaul rainfall total = ________________________
Manaus is located 3o south of the Equator and in the centre of the Amazon basin in Brazil. The
temperatures are both high and constant throughout the year. The small annual range of 2 oC
is due to the sun always being at a high angle in the sky, even if it is not always directly
overhead.

Why is it so hot?
Latitude or distance from the equator
Temperatures drop the further an area is from the equator
due to the curvature of the earth. In areas closer to the
poles, sunlight has a larger area of atmosphere to pass
through and the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. As a
result, more energy is lost and temperatures are cooler.
In addition, the presence of ice and snow nearer the poles
causes a higher albedo, meaning that more solar energy is
reflected, also contributing to the cold.

Why does it rain so much?


CONVECTIONAL RAINFALL
Equatorial areas have a annual rainfall totals in excess of 200mm, mainly due to the
convectional thunderstorms which occur during most afternoons during the year. These
storms are due to the convergence of warm air (the trade winds). The warm air is forced to
rise, creating an area of low pressure and giving heavy rain.
Because air is rising in the equatorial zone, surface winds are light except when sudden downdrafts
from the cumulonimbus clouds produce strong gusts. In the past, when sailing ships reached this zone
they would often be stuck for weeks because of the lack of wind. As a result, the equatorial low
pressure areas over the oceans became known as the doldrums

TASK: Draw an annotated diagram of an atmospheric convection cell

THE DAILY PATTERN


http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/zvb76sg

One day is very much like another, with places receiving 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of
darkness.
The sun rises at 0600 hours and its heat soon evaporates the morning mist, the heavy overnight
dew and any moisture remaining from the previous afternoons storm.
Even by 0800 hours temperatures are as high as 25 OC, and by noon, when the sun is near its
vertical position, they reach 33 oC.

The high temperatures cause the air to rise in powerful convection currents. The rising air,
which is very moist due to rapid evapotranspiration from swamps, rivers and rainforest
vegetation, it cools on reaching higher altitudes.
When it cools to dew point the temperatures at which water vapour condenses back into
water droplets large cumulus clouds develop. By mid afternoon, these clouds have grown
into black, towering cumulonimbus, which produce torrential downpours, accompanied by
thunder and lightning. Such storms soon cease, leaving the air calm. By sunset, by about
1800 hours, the clouds have already begun to break up. Nights are warm (23 oC) and very
humid.
TASK: Draw an annotated diagram to illustrate why it rains in the afternoon:

How can we explain the drier months?


Some places, like Manaus, have two or three drier, but not dry months when the sun is
overhead at the opposite tropic (which is Cancer in the case of Manaus), and most rain when
the sun is closer to being overhead. Winds are generally light (the doldrums are areas of calm
over equatorial oceans) and variable (there are no prevailing winds).
Because of the effect of sun angle on climate most areas within the tropics are hot yearround, with diurnal variations in temperature exceeding seasonal variations. Seasonal
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variations in tropical climate are dominated by changes in precipitation, which are in turn
largely influenced by the tropical rain belt or Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a portion
of the Hadley cell. The ITCZ is shown, for July average, in the graphic. Areas of ascending air
have heavy rainfall; areas of descending air are dry. The ITCZ somewhat follows the solar
equator throughout the year, but with geographical variations, and in some areas (India) is
heavily influenced by local large-scale monsoons.
THE TROPICAL CLIMATE CONTROL

The most important climate control in regard to the tropical climate types relates to the
position of the Inter Tropical Convergent Zone or ITCZ. The ITCZ is an area of low pressure and
marks the point of trade wind convergence. These two roles make it an important ingredient
in atmospheric circulation and give it a critical role in the formation of the Hadley cell.
The ITCZ's location varies throughout the year and while it remains near the equator, the ITCZ
over land drifts farther north or south than the ITCZ over oceans. This is due to greater
variation of land temperatures. The location of the ITCZ can vary as much as 40 to 45 of
latitude north or south of the equator based on the pattern of land and ocean. Despite these
variations the ITCZ relates closely to the altitude of the sun and marks the point where the
sun is highest in the sky. In temperate latitudes relative migration of the sun between the
Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn is responsible for creating the seasons but in tropical
latitudes it is responsible for the migration of low pressure and the resulting shifts in seasonal
tropical rains.

The equatorial climate is characterized by its high humidity, lack of


seasonal change and a daily weather pattern that remains remarkably
uniform throughout the year.

In order to answer the following question, look back at the climate graph for Manaus

ECOSYSTEMS
Rainforest ecosystems are characterised by heavy convectional rainfall, high humidity,
lushness of vegetation and nutrient-rich but shallow soil. These factors give rise to a unique
water and nutrient cycle.
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Rainforest water cycle

The roots of plants take up water from the ground and the rain is intercepted as it falls - much
of it at the canopy level. As the rainforest heats up, the water evaporates into the atmosphere
and forms clouds to make the next day's rain. This is convectional rainfall.

Rainforest nutrient cycle

The rainforest nutrient cycling is rapid. When the trees grow, they remove nutrients from the
soil to be returned later when their leaves fall. The hot, damp conditions on the forest floor
allow for the rapid decomposition of this dead plant material. This adds hummus and nutrients
to the top of the soil.
However, as these nutrients are in high demand from the rainforest's many fast-growing
plants, they do not remain in the soil for long and stay close to the surface of the soil. Rapid
chemical weathering processes in the hot and wet climate result in very deep soils, yet the
deep soil below has few nutrients, because of leaching. The nutrients have been taken down
in solution and removed from the soil by the rainwater.
If vegetation is removed, the soils quickly become infertile and vulnerable to erosion.
Therefore, if the rainforest is cleared for agriculture it will not make very good farmland!

Rainforest soils

Soils are red due to the high iron and aluminium content. There is a thick layer of leaf litter
and decomposing organic matter on the surface.

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CHARACTERISTICS OF THE RAINFOREST VEGETATION


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In their natural state, rainforests are so dense that light doesnt not penetrate far into them. From the
air they appear as a continuous mass of trees, broken only by rivers. The trees are very tall, with
straight trunks which branch only at the top. The forest structure is composed of five tiers and is well
adapted to the climate in which it grows.

Rainforest vegetation levels


Tropical rainforests have dense vegetation and identifiable layers. The graphic shows the
levels of rainforest vegetation and the relative amount of sunlight that each one receives.
Emergents are the tops of the tallest
trees in the rainforest. These are
much higher, and so are able to get
more light than the average trees in
the forest canopy.
The canopy is where the upper parts
of most of the trees are found. The
canopy is typically about 65 to 130
feet (20 to 40 metres) tall. This leafy
environment is home to insects,
arachnids, birds and some mammals.
The under canopy is the second level
up. There is limited sunlight. Saplings
wait here for larger plants and trees to
die, leaving a gap in the canopy which
they can grow into. Woody climbers
called lianas avoid having to wait for
gaps by rooting in the ground and
climbing up trees to get to the
sunlight.
The shrub layer. It is dark and gloomy
with very little vegetation between
the trees. During heavy rainfalls this
area can flood.

RAINFOREST PLANTS
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There are a large number of species in the rainforest, but they all look alike. Each species is
widely spaced apart. The south east island of Borneo, for example, has more than 10,000
plant species, including 3000 tree species. They are mainly hardwoods such as ironwood,
mahogany, ebony and rosewood.
The forest is not seasonal some trees will have flowers, and others fruit, while some are
losing their leaves. The deciduous trees drop their leaves at any time of the year, so the forest
has an evergreen appearance. A tree may have branches with no leaves, whilst others have
full foliage. It grows continuously until fully grown. The leaves are broad and often have
depressed central vein which leads to a drip tip

Adapting to rainforest life


The vegetation in the rainforest has evolved characteristics which help it to survive in this unique
environment.

A fan palm

Fan palms have large, fan-shaped leaves


that are good for catching sunshine and
water. The leaves are segmented, so excess
water can drain away.

Buttress roots

Rainforests have a shallow layer of fertile


soil, so trees only need shallow roots to
reach the nutrients. However, shallow roots
can't support huge rainforest trees, so many
tropical trees have developed huge buttress
roots. These stretch from the ground to two
metres or more up the trunk and help to
anchor the tree to the ground

Lianas

Lianas are woody vines that start at ground


level, and use trees to climb up to the
canopy where they spread from tree to tree
to get as much light as possible.

Strangler fig

Strangler figs start at the top of a tree and


work down. The seed is dropped in a nook at
the top of a tree and starts to grow, using
the debris collected there as nourishment.
Gradually the fig sends aerial roots down the
trunk of the host, until they reach the ground
and take root. As it matures, the fig will
gradually surround the host, criss-cross its
roots around the trunk and start to strangle.
The figs branches will grow taller to catch the
sunlight and invasive roots rob the host of
nutrients. Eventually the host will die and
decompose leaving the hollow but sturdy
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trunk of the strangler fig.

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ANIMALS IN THE TROPICAL RAINFOREST


SYSTEM
The rainforest has rich and diverse animal life because it provides a
variety of habitats and an abundance of vegetation for food. The
forests of Borneo contain 200 mammal species, over 400 bird
species, nearly 400 fish, 100 amphibian species, and thousands of
insect species. New animals species are discovered every year.
Each layer of the forest has different conditions of sunlight, temperature and moisture.

Animals on the forest floor = pygmy elephants, deer, rhinos, shrews


Middle levels = species of monkey, squirrel, frogs, lizard, tree climbing big cats
Canopy and emergent layers = 80% of the animals species are found here,

TASK: Research animal adaptations to the rainforest.

ANIMAL

ADAPTATION

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ENERGY FLOWS, FOOD CHAINS AND FOOD WEBS IN THE TROPICAL


RAINFOREST
Non
Non living
living
environm
ent
environment
sunlight is
the m ain
source of
energy

Producer
Producer
green
plants
convert
energy by
photosynth
esis

Consumer
Consumer
herbivores
eat green
plants

consum
er
consumer
carnivores
eat
herbivores,
om nivores
eat both

decom
poser
decomposer
bacteria
and fungi

The energy passes in the direction of the arrow. A simple example of a food chain would be:

Suns energy plants produce leaves and fruit squirrels eat them raptors eat squirrels
raptor dies, bacteria and fungi decompose the raptor

On the death of any animal or plant, the nutrients they contain will re-enter the soil for new plants to
take up. So, the two important processes in ecosystems nutrient cycling and energy flows are linked.
There are many food chains in the forest. They are interlinked as a complex food web, because an
animal is potentially hunted by more than one predator (or is prey for more than one animal)

TASK:
1. Draw two food chains for the rainforest
2. Draw a food web for the rainforest

PEO

RAINFOREST

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Humans intervene in tropical rainforests in order to bring real or imagined benefits to


themselves or the local population.

CASE STUDY: HUMAN INTERVENTION IN THE AMAZON


The short-term benefits of clearing rainforest areas include:
land for agriculture, houses and roads
jobs for local workers in road building, logging, agriculture, mining and construction
the generation of income (often in valuable foreign currency) for the LEDC when wood,
minerals, and other resources are sold
scientific investigation into rainforest plants may provide new food sources and
medicines
These benefits, however, come at a cost. Clearing rainforest threatens the survival of many
plant and animal species and can lead to serious environmental degradation. Widespread
deforestation damages the whole biosphere (the balance of living and non-living things) with
serious long-term consequences.
The case study of human intervention in the Amazon looks at some of the issues around
rainforest development.
TASK: Using Pg 236 of your Wider World text book, draw a spider diagram to summarise the
causes of deforestation in the Amazon (do this on an A3 sheet of paper, as we will add to this
case study as we go through the course)

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POSITIVE
IMPACTS OF HUMAN INTERVENTION
Improved transportation - new roads and airports. Better transportation means easier
access to raw materials like minerals and timber. Rainforest resources can be
transported away and sold.
Infrastructure, hospitals and education can be improved from the money gained from
selling natural resources.
Profits from selling resources can be used to improve a country's infrastructure. For
example, profits from the sale of rainforest resources can be used to build schools and
hospitals.
Raw materials, eg tropical hardwoods such as ebony and mahogany, can be sold for a
good price abroad.
Mineral deposits in the Amazon include bauxite (the main constituent of aluminium),
iron ore, manganese, gold, silver and diamonds. Minerals can be sold for high profits.
Large-scale farming brings money into the country and provides food and jobs for the
country's growing population.
Small-scale farming provides food for rainforest communities and the landless poor of
Brazil.

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PROBLEMS
o

o
o
o
o

OF HUMAN INTERVENTION
New roads divide up parts of the rainforest and can cut
off connections between different biotic and abiotic
systems. For example, a road can stop monkeys such
as the golden lion tamarin from travelling to gather
food and, in turn, distribute seeds to re-sow plants in
the forest.
Land clearance for farming, transportation and mining can lead to deforestation.
Hardwood trees take many years to grow so can be difficult to replace.
Fertile soils that make farming possible are quickly washed away when the forest is
cleared. If soil ends up in rivers, this can lead to flooding.
Loss of animal habitat occurs when trees are cut down. Hence, deforestation can result
in endangering animals and plant life, or even causing them to become extinct.
Profits from large-scale farming and selling resources often go back to MEDCs or large
companies and don't benefit the rainforest communities.
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Watch http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/rainforest-destruction-kalimantan-indonesia-andcosta-rica/3096.html

TASK: What have been the effects of rainforest clearances in the Amazon Basin (just
use the information on Pg 237 in your Wider World text book)

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DEFORESTATION & SOILS


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If the forest is left alone, it maintains the soil fertility it has by returning
nutrients to the soil in leaf fall. It also reduces soil erosion in a number
of ways:

The roots hold the soil in place


Its large leaves lessen the raindrop impact (interception) on the
soil by catching them
Its roots also take up water from the soil reducing the chance
of a mudflow on the slope (reduced suface run off). Reducing
the amount of water in the soil also reduces the leaching of plant nutrients.

DEFORESTATION & FLOODING


By keeping the soil in place, forests stop it from being washed into rivers. This keeps them healthy for
aquatic life. If the trees are removed the heavy rains wash soil into the rivers, silting up the river bed
and reducing the channel capacity. This process is called aggradation and will increase the potential for
flooding as the river channel can no longer hold as much water. Further, the trees intercept the
rainwater, reducing surface run off and lengthening lag times (which reduces flood risk)

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DEFORESTATION & CLIMATE CHANGE


The water taken from the soil by tree roots is passed into the atmosphere through pores in the
leaves by the process of transpiration. The water vapour can then be converted as a result of
convection into rainfall to provide the necessary water for a healthy ecosystem.
During photosynthesis, in the daytime, plants take in carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse
gases) from the atmosphere and release oxygen into it. The more forests the world has
(acting as a carbon sink), the greater the chances there are of being able to reduce enhanced
global warming.The dark colour of the forests also absorbs solar radiation. If the forests were
replaced with crops or urban areas, more of the suns rays would be reflected off those lighter
surfaces, causing heating of the atmosphere

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SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF THE FOREST


Brazil needs to exploit the Amazon's resources to develop, so leaving it untouched is not an
option.
Uncontrolled and unchecked exploitation can cause irreversible damage such as loss of
biodiversity, soil erosion, flooding and climate change. So, sustainable use of the forest is
essential. Sustainable development will meet the needs of Brazil's population without
compromising the needs of future generations.

POSSIBLE

STRATEGIES INCLUDE:
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Agro-forestry - growing trees and crops at the same time. This lets farmers take
advantage of shelter from the canopy of trees. It prevents soil erosion and the crops
benefit from the nutrients from the dead organic matter.
Selective logging - trees are only felled when they reach a particular height. This allows
young trees a guaranteed life span and the forest will regain full maturity after around
30-50 years.
Education - ensuring those involved in exploitation and management of the forest
understand the consequences behind their actions.
Afforestation - the opposite of deforestation. If trees are cut down, they are replaced to
maintain the canopy.
Forest reserves - areas protected from exploitation.
Monitoring - use of satellite technology and photography to check that any activities
taking place are legal and follow guidelines for sustainability.

TASK: Make Case study notes on Sustainable forestry in Malaysia, Wider


World, Pg 238-9

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THE TROPICAL DESERT CLIMATE


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CHARACTERISTICS

AND CLIMATE OF DESERTS


Deserts have extreme temperatures. During the day the temperature may reach 50C, when
at night it may fall to below 0C. Deserts have less than 250 mm of rainfall per year. The rain
can be unreliable. Most deserts are found between 20 and 35 north and south of the
equator.

CLIMATE GRAPH FOR THE SAHARA DESERT


The Sahara is the largest desert, covering 9 million km 2

TASK: With reference to place you have studied. Describe the climate
characteristics of a tropical desert climate.

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LOCATING DESERT ENVIRONMENTS


Apart from the Sahara, which extends across Africa, most deserts are located on the west
coasts of continents, in the subtropical high pressure belt, found between 20 and 35 north
and south of the equator.
TASK Shade and label the main tropical desert regions (Atacama, Kalahari-Namib; Australian;
Mexican; Majave; Iranian; Thar) on the map below. Mark the cold and warm ocean currents
and the trade winds

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WHY ARE DESERTS SO HOT & DRY?


Deserts are characterised by their aridity. The average annual precipitation totals in tropical
deserts are less than 25 mm a year. The air is so dry that some places have no recorded
precipitation at all e.g. Iquique in the Atacama Desert, Aswan in Egypt.
The hot deserts are situated in the subtropical high pressure belts where there is unbroken
sunshine for the whole year. Such areas include the Sahara, Saudi Arabia, large parts of Iran
and Iraq, northwest India, California, South Africa and much of Australia. Here, maximum
temperatures of 40 to 45C are common, although during colder periods of the year, nighttime temperatures can drop to freezing or below due to the exceptional radiation loss under
the skies.
There are four factors which lead to the formation desert areas:
1)
2)
3)
4)

The global pattern of atmospheric circulation


Rainshadow effect
Continentality
Cold ocean currents.

1) THE GLOBAL PATTERN OF ATMOSPHERIC CIRCULATION

The rising air that leads to so much precipitation in equatorial climates eventually
descends to the Earths surface in the tropical deserts. This descending air is a major
cause of desert aridity.
Having risen to the tropopause, the air moves towards the poles and starts to cool
becoming denser as a result
It then sinks down to earth at about 30N and 30S creating g high pressure at the
surface
The sinking air becomes compressed and that compression causes warming. This
results in a decrease in the airs relative humidity
After reaching the surface, the dry air moves from the high pressure area back to the
low pressure in equatorial climates as the trade winds. The trade winds are strong and
constant and, because they derive from sinking air and blow over land to the deserts,
they do not contain much moisture. The combination of sinking air and dry trade winds
leads to very low precipitation in the tropical deserts. Some air also moves towards the
poles.
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The circulations of air between the equator and 30N and 30S are known as the
Hadley cells.
2) MOUNTAIN RANGES TO CREATE RAIN SHADOWS

Many deserts lies in the rain shadow of large mountain ranges. Where these mountain barriers
are located close to the sea, they prevent moisture being carried onshore by air masses from
reaching places on their less sides. Moist air which is being brought inland by prevailing winds
or secondary winds will reach the mountain ranges and be forced to rise, leading to
condensation and precipitation on the windward side sof the mountain. Warm dry air then
descends down the less sides of the moutains which are, consequently, despried of moisture.
Examples are the Patagonian desert in South America, or the Atacama desert in South
America.
3) THE INFLUENCE OF CONTINENTALITY
Remoteness from the sea is another major cause of aridity. Places in maritime (close to the
sea) locations generally have much higher rainfall than continental interiors. Therefore, we
find deserts further inland. The Sahara desert is the most inland place in the African
continent. This is particularly important for cold desert locations.
Because water heats up and cools down more slowly than land, coastal areas have warmer
winters and cooler summers than places further inland. This is known as the maritime
influence, when air blowing in from the sea brings the temperature of the sea to the land.
4) COLD OCEAN CURRENTS
There are cold ocean currents off the coast of tropical deserts. These currents are large bodies
of water that move from the oceans nearer the poles to areas nearer the equator.
The cold water influences the climate in two ways:
1) moisture is condensed offshore into fog and mist, which may then travel short
distances only to be burnt off by the rising morning temperatures

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2) any onshore winds passing over the cold ocean surface will themselves be cool and
have a very low moisture carrying capacity making them incapable of producing

rain.

COLD AT NIGHT?
Desert air has very low relative humidity, so desert skies are often cloudless or have very little
cloud. This results in extreme diurnal (daily) temperatures. Without cloud, the maximum
amount of solar radiation can reach the Earths surface, so daytime temperatures are often as
high as 38C. But, in summer they can reach as high as 50C.
However, at night without clouds to stop the Earths long wave radiation escaping into
space temperatures can fall rapidly to 15C in summer and 5C in winter. So, daily
temperature ranges in deserts are very large all year round.
Low temperatures at night can result in the condensation of water vapour, forming dew
(droplets of water on the surface).

RAIN IN THE DESERT?


Much of the rain that does fall in the desert occurs in torrential convectional downpours but
these are rare and erratic. After a storm, a place might have no more rainfall for years. One
reason why rainfall is so rare in deserts is because convection is seldom strong enough to rise
through the descending air in these high pressure regions.
Rain does not often fall in deserts, but, when it does, it is usually torrential rain which causes
flash floods. This is particularly true in areas nearest to the equator, where occasionally
convectional storms occur in the summer heat. In these areas summer is usually the season
when most rain falls. Areas on the pole ward side of deserts receive winter rain.

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HOW DO PLANTS ADAPT TO THE DESERT ENVIRONMENT?


Plants and animals need to cope with the dry conditions. Compared to other biomes, deserts
have limited numbers of plants and animals that are able to survive. They have to survive
with a minimum of water.
Some plants are succulents and store the water in leaves, stems or roots. One example is the
cactus.
Other ways plants tolerate the dry conditions include:

long roots to tap into the water deep underground


short life cycles - a plant or seed could remain dormant until the rains come
some plants flower only at night, others only open their pores to transpire at night
Many have pores only on the underside of the leaf where they are in the shade
Some plants have light coloured surfaces to reflect the sun

Prickly Pear Cactus

This succulent stores water after rain in its circular stems to


support it through long dry periods. It has no leaves but has
sharp spines to help it from being eaten by animals
Some cacti have a covering of fine hairs on their stems to
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minimize transpiration by providing shade

Desert grasses and shrubs

Desert vegetation is sparse


Plants are widely spaced because they have to compete for
water
Roots are shallow & wide spreading to catch water after the
rain and before it evaporates
Usually low growing plants, because there is little moisture
for growth
Leaves are either very small or are thorns to reduce
transpiration

Joshua tree
and desert
scrub

Joshua tree, a yucca species, only grows in the Mojave


desert. It has roots up to 10m deep which also spread. Its
leaves are like radiating spikes. It is so well adapted to desert
conditions it can grow up to 15m tall over many years.

Places where water comes to the surface, usually from a spring is known as an oasis, where
denser, taller vegetation is able to grow.
Desert soils can also cause difficulties for plants. They are either rocky or sandy, and very
porous, so water passes very quickly into them after rain
Sand soils are mobile, (so plants can easily be covered) and loose (so plants can be uprooted).
Nevertheless some grasses spring to life after the rain, such as in the sands of the Namib
desert
Desert soils are thin and contain very few plant nutrients. This
is because very little organic matter is available to decompose
into them
Many desert soils are grey, because they contain salts drawn
to the surface in solution after rain and then deposited at the
surface when the water evaporates. Only salt tolerant plants
such as saltbush, can grow in saline soils.
Because of the harsh conditions, the seeds of some desert plants are forced to lie dormant for
years and then flower and fruit very quickly after the rain. They have a very short life cycle
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35

HOW DO ANIMALS SURVIVE IN THE HOT, ARID DESERT


CONDITIONS?
Many species have adapted to survive in very dry conditions.
The zebra that migrate in the wet season into the valleys of the Namib desert are able
to detect pools of water below the surface with their nostrils. They then use their
hooves to dig holes to get to the water
Some animals like elephants travel from one water source to another in the Namib
desert.
In the Mojave desert, the animals have light coloured feathers or fur to reflect the sun.
The desert tortoises feed on plants in the spring and the moisture they obtain is stored
in their bladders to last them until next spring.
Many desert animals are small and can find shelter from the intense daytime sun by
staying in burrows or hiding under rocks or leaves. Some are nocturnal and hunt in the
cool of the night.

The camel of the Sahara desert and other dry areas in North Africa have many specialist
adaptations. They have long eyelashes and can close their nostrils for protection in
sandstorms. They can go without water for months and can drink a lot of water very quickly

36

when it is present. As food is not readily available, camels store fat in their humps. As this is
digested, hydrogen is released and mixes with oxygen to form H2O water.

37

Hump:
Thick Wool On Back:

Long Eyelashes And Bushy


Eyebrows:

Sandy Colour:
Nostrils Which Can Open And
Close:

Two-Toed Feet With Thick


Leathery Feet:

Concentrated Urine And Dry


Faeces:

Thin Hair On Tummy:


Tough Tongue And Teeth:

Long Legs With Leathery Knees:

DESERTS: HUMAN ADAPTATIONS

TRADITIONAL ADAPTATIONS TO ARID CONDITIONS


One example of people who live in the desert is the Bedouin tribe. They live in desert areas
in the Middle East. Their traditional lifestyle has adapted to these extremely arid conditions.
Their nomadic lifestyle means they do not settle in one area for long. Instead, they move on
frequently to prevent exhausting an area of its resources.
They have herds of animals which are adapted to living in desert conditions, such as camels.
Their tents are built to allow air to circulate within them, keeping them cool. Animal hair is
used to insulate them, to keep the tent cool during the day and warmer at night.

MODERN ADAPTATIONS TO ARID


CONDITIONS
With both money and technology, desert areas
can be developed to cater for modern lifestyles.
Las Vegas, in the Mojave Desert, is one of the
fastest-growing cities in the USA. The city of Las
Vegas is lush and green in comparison with the
surrounding desert.
This is possible because 90 per cent of the water
Las Vegas needs is imported from the Colorado
River. The remaining 10 per cent comes from
ground water. The demand for water is not
sustainable and the city has started to plan to
reduce the demand for water. One way is that
new homes have restrictions on the amount and
type of lawns that they can have. The authority also recycles water where it can

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES DO DESERTS PROVIDE FOR HUMAN


ACTIVITIES?
Deserts are areas with fragile and limited resources. Despite the harsh conditions people live
in desert areas, but their need for food and water presents many challenges.
Case study: Las Vegas and the Mojave Desert

Las Vegas is an example of a city which is built in a desert area.


Las Vegas is a fast-growing city - the population is expected to double in 40 years. It is
located in the Mojave desert - one of America's smallest and driest deserts, which has
15-25 cm of rain per year.
To cope with the population's demand for water, Las Vegas diverts the water supply
from Lake Mead on the Colorado River.

650,000 people live in the desert. In


addition the Mojave desert is used by:
tourists - visiting areas such as
Death Valley
military, as they test out airplanes
and train troops
hikers and rock climbers
off-road vehicles - including quad
bikes and motorcycles making use
of the varied terrain
solar and wind energy generation
film makers, attracted by the scenery
The way deserts are used presents many challenges. The off-road vehicles damage the
sensitive desert ecosystem. The growth of urban areas threatens the desert area, and pollutes
the air. The demand for water increases. The city officials have encouraged the use of
recycled waste water and the removal of water thirsty lawns.
Fibre optic cables are routed through the desert connecting urban areas - disrupting the
fragile ecosystem and allowing weeds to grow.
OPPORTUNITIES
THE
MOJAB
E
DESER
T

URBAN AREAS Palm Springs & Las Vegas

Residential areas
Film industry
Gambling
Tourism
Las Vegas 2 million inhabitants

CHALLENGES
URBAN AREAS:

Water for Las Vegas urban population is


supplied from Lake Mead, behind the
Hoover Dam on the Colorado River (90%
of its needs) this dam was only half full
in 2009 and some people predicted it
would be empty by 2020

EASIER CASE STUDY: T OURISM IN THE


SERENGETI
Tourism brings income to Kenya and gives tourists a greater
understanding of the area's animals and plants. The
Serengeti is especially popular for safari holidays, which give
tourists a chance to observe the annual migration of the
wildebeest and zebra.
Tourism can also have negative impacts on the area. These
need to be managed carefully to ensure that the natural
environment isn't damaged for future generations.
Positive impacts of tourism
Conservation. Tourism has supplied the economic incentive to set up national parks and
conservation areas which protect wildlife.
Employment. Tourism has generated jobs, improving the living standards for local
communities.
Infrastructure. Roads, airports and other facilities have been built.

Investment. Profits from tourism have been invested in education and other
programmes for local communities.

Negative impacts of tourism


Environmental damage. Roads and tracks for safari jeeps can erode grass cover,
damaging plants and animals and disturbing local habitats. The removal of trees and
other vegetation for the construction of roads can lead to soil erosion.
Inequality. Often the profits of tourism are reaped by wealthy landowners or the hotel
and travel companies in MEDCs.
Loss of traditional cultures. The Masai's way of life and traditional farming methods
have been by the setting up of the Serengeti National Park.
Water cycle damage. Diverting water for tourists can exploit local water reserves,
leaving local people, plants and animals short of water. Tourist hotels sometimes dump
waste into rivers.

EXTENSTION - CASE STUDY: SAHARA


OPPORTUNITIES

CHALLENGES

ENERGY
Oil and gas reserves underneath the desert
50% of Algerias GDP comes from oil and
gas
Solar power work has begun on
constructing a solar power plant in the
desert. Power will be transported under the
Mediterranean sea to Europe

ENERGY (oil and gas)


Reserves are difficult to locate
Transporting the oil and gas is difficult and
expensive
Drilling for oil at the Hassi Messaoud oilfield is
difficult because:
Isolated location can only be accessed by
aircraft
The site employs 40,000 people they have to
pump their water supplies from underground
aquifers and fly in their food
They have to drill hundreds of meters
underground to reach the oil
Pipelines have to carry the oil hundreds of
kilometres across the Sahara to ports on the
North African Coast
Not sustainable in the long term oil and gas
are finite (will run out) resources

FARMING AND IRRIGATION


Irrigated land means the farmers can grow
more food, for their own population and to
export
Farming supplies 13% of Egypts GDP
Farming employs 32% of the labour force
The Nile provides water for irrigated
farming, industry and urban uses the Nile
is an exotic river (which means it has its
source somewhere outside the desert
region, in an equatorial climate and
sufficient water to allow it to flow through
the desert and not completely evaporate)
Lake Nasser is an enormous reservoir
behind the Aswan High Dam that also
produces hydroelectricity to power Egypts
economic development

FARMING AND IRRIGATION


Egypt is 95% desert, it is hot and dry, with less
than 125 mm of rain a year this poses
challenges for agriculture
It has a soaring population in the last 25 years
the population has grown from 50 million to 79
million (there are more mouths to feed this
puts more pressure on the land)
SALINITY
Egypt's irrigated land is increasingly suffering
from salinity
Irrigation water contains mineral salts
When the water evaporates from the surface of
the soil the salt crystals are left behind
Most of the plants then die
The land is destroyed

THE FUTURE
Because Egypts farmland is increasingly being lost to urbanisation, wind blow sand and salinity the
government has begun a scheme to irrigate more land away from the Nile Valley

The Toshka Project


Cost $70 billion
Use pumps and canals to transfer water from Lake Nassar to the desert
It will
- Increase Egypts irrigated area by 30%
- Enable high value crops such as olives, citrus fruits, vegetables to be grown
- Provide food, electricity and jobs to 16 million people in new towns in the desert
- Improve roads, railways and telecommunications
- Promote tourism

DROUGHT

Droughts occur when a long period of abnormally dry weather leads to a severe water
shortage. Droughts are also often caused by the activity of humans as well. Human activities
that can help trigger droughts include:

Widespread cutting down of trees for fuel. This reduces the soil's ability to hold water
and dries out the ground, triggering desertification, leading eventually drought.
Construction of a dam on a large river. This may help provide electricity and water to
irrigate farmland near the reservoir: however, it may also cause drought downstream by
severely reducing the flow of water.

Effects of drought

Droughts endanger lives and livelihoods through


thirst, hunger (due to crops dying from lack of
water) and the spread of disease.
Millions of people died in the 20th century due to
severe drought and famines. One of the worst hit
areas was the Sahel region of Africa, which
covers parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan.
Droughts and famines can have other
geographical impacts. If drought forces people to
migrate to a new home it could put pressure on
resources in neighbouring countries.
Droughts can have a severe impact on MEDCs as well as LEDCs. Droughts have caused
deaths in Europe in recent years, especially among the elderly. During the UK summer of
2006 there were hose pipe bans and campaigns to make people save water.

Drought in the Sahel


The Sahel region of Africa has been
suffering from drought on a regular basis
since the early 1980s. The area naturally
experiences alternating wet and dry
seasons. If the rains fail it can cause
drought.
In addition to natural factors, the land is
marginal. Human activities such as
overgrazing, over-cultivation and the
collection of firewood can lead to desertification, particularly when combined with drought
conditions.
The result is crop failure, soil erosion, famine and hunger, which then means that people are
less able to work when their need is greatest. It becomes a vicious circle and can result in
many deaths, especially among infants and the elderly. In Niger in 2004, the situation was
made worse when a plague of locusts consumed any remaining crops. In these cases, people
rely on food aid from the international community.
On its own, food aid is unsustainable in the long term. What is really needed is development
aid, which involves educating the local community in farming practices.

DESERTIFICATION
This is the process that sees productive land turned into non-productive desert. It usually
affects dry areas on the edge of deserts, eg The Sahel, south of the Sahara Desert in Africa.

WHAT

CAUSES DESERTIFICATION?
Desertification is a complex process. It is caused by physical processes and human
mismanagement. Factors which may cause desertification include:

Climate change especially long dry periods, causing drought. The dry conditions
cause the vegetation to die, so the land loses the protective cover that vegetation
provides.
Too many animals within the area leads to overgrazing.
Population growth traditional, less intensive, methods of farming decline. There is
more pressure on the land for growing crops. Nomadic tribes that once moved around
may start to farm in one area. Marginal land that is less suitable for farming is used.
Wood is also used for buildings, heating, and firewood, causing deforestation and soil
erosion.

WHAT

HOW

ARE THE EFFECTS OF DESERTIFICATION?


Lack of vegetation cover for holding soil together and for grazing.
Increased soil erosion.
Crop failure, leading to famine.
Fewer plant and animal species.
Land is unable to support people so they are forced to migrate.

CAN DESERTIFICATION BE SOLVED?


Reduce grazing so plants have a chance to grow again.
Magic stones circles of stones are placed on the ground to hold water on the soil
rather than let it run quickly across the surface. This reduces soil erosion.
Planting trees providing shelter from the wind.
Mulching adding layers of leaves or straw can reduce evaporation and add nutrients
to the soil when they rot.
Terracing or contour ploughing soil is not washed down the slope when it rains.
Drought-resistant plants - used to stabilise sand dunes.

Recent evidence suggests that there are some areas where the process of desertification has
slowed down. However, the areas on the edge of deserts are still fragile and need very careful
management.

THE MASAI AND DESERTIFICATION


Masai women in the Amboseli National Park,
Kenya
Many people in central Africa farm to produce the
food they eat. The Masai tribe of the Kenyan
Serengeti practise nomadic farming, a traditional
method of farming allows vegetation to recover
from animal grazing whenever the farmers move
on to another area.
However, in the past 40 - 50 years the Masai's way of life and farming have been disrupted as
a result of commercial pressures and government policies. The ecosystem has also started to
suffer.
Desertification can result from poorly managed human intervention in the savannah. Areas of
desert are created by the destruction of natural vegetation. Causes of desertification include:

Removal of vegetation cover.


Overgrazing.
Uncontrolled fuel wood collection.
Unsustainable farming practice and loss in fertility of soil.
Excessive tree felling.

Commercial farmers, encouraged by government policies, have moved into the best dryseason land and converted it to commercial agriculture. As savannah is converted into
cropland, the natural vegetation is removed and the soil's nutrients are rapidly used up.
When the Serengeti National Park was established in the 1950s to conserve wildlife and
encourage tourism, human access to the park was restricted and the Masai were excluded
from it.
The Serengeti's population has expanded rapidly over the past 30 years. This has resulted in
larger herds grazing the grassland and more trees being cut down for fuel. As vegetation is
removed there is a risk of soil erosion.
These interventions forced the nomadic Masai farmers onto marginal land. Their traditional
pastoral migration patterns have been disrupted and they have been compelled to use
smaller areas of land for their cattle. Overgrazing has been the inevitable result.
The Serengeti's increasing population has resulted in a growth in demand for meat, which has
led to a rapid increase in meat poaching. Poachers are now killing around 150,000 wildebeest
a year - and a dramatic fall in the wildebeest population will cause a knock-on effect
throughout the ecosystem.

SUSTAINABLE

MANAGEMENT OF THE SAVANNAH


Conservation is the key to protecting the Serengeti for future generations. A sustainable
future could be achieved if the following policies are adopted:

Local people employed by investors.


Respect for local cultures and customs.
Local people should receive some financial rewards from tourism
Sustainable methods are used in order to protect the environment.
Improved conservation education programmes for local communities and farmers.

POSSIBLE

STRATEGIES TO ACHIEVE THESE GOALS:


Harvesting branches rather then whole trees to prevent deforestation, soil erosion and
desertification
Controlled burning of grassland to avoid wildfires.
Crop rotation to keep a varied supply of nutrients in the soil and prevent soil erosion
and desertification.
Stone lines along the soil contours keep it in place, prevent erosion and improve crop
yields. Projects such as this can involve the whole community and give them a sense of
ownership and responsibility.
Managing grazing land to avoid overgrazing, soil erosion and desertification.

SOLUTIONS

TO DESERTIFICATION - SOME DISADVANTAGES


Afforestation - newly planted trees need water, which will be a problem in a drought
stricken region
Building stone lines - reduces soil erosion, but is a labour intensive process which
diverts the community from tasks essential to their survival.
Decreasing livestock - solves the problem of overgrazing but requires people to adapt if
they rely on cattle or goats for their livelihoods.