How will these resources help you?

The topic of extreme environments is included in popular GCSE examination specifications and is a fascinating area which is great for engaging students in and out of lessons. Studying it allows students to explore a range of biomes, with deserts, rainforests and polar areas being common areas of study. These resources will help teachers and students to look more deeply into how people, animals and plants have adapted to extreme environments. One resource focuses on the responses of indigenous people to extreme conditions and why it is so important to respect and take note. 

How life carries on in extreme environments

Going to Extremes: Mud, Sweat and Frozen Tears

by Nick Middleton, published by Pan Macmillan, (2012), 9780230768307

This book sees Middleton travel to the coldest, hottest, wettest and driest places in the world, chronicling his experiences in an easily readable way. Middleton explores the geography of each region he visits, considering the impacts of meteorological processes and landscape. He shares his feelings and tells the stories of people living in the areas, located in Chile, Russia, India and Ethiopia. Middleton also explores how plants and animals have adapted to extreme environments. This book is suitable for all secondary school students who are fluent readers, and extracts could easily be used in lessons for guided reading. If you enjoy this book, you may also like to read ‘Surviving Extremes’ by this author.

How are animals and indigenous people being forced to adapt to climate change in polar regions?

The Loneliest Polar Bear: A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World

by Kale Williams, published by Little, Brown, (2021), 9780751578416

We know how polar bears have adapted to survive in the extreme environment of the frozen Arctic, but we are less aware of their struggle to survive in the warmer conditions caused by climate change. This book tells the true story of Nora the polar bear cub, cleverly interwoven with the struggle for survival of an indigenous hunter. The book tackles difficult questions, such as the right of indigenous people to hunt in traditional ways and the causes of the climate emergency, which is having such a profound impact on the Arctic. It is easy for a Western audience to condemn the hunter, but we must also consider the greater threat to the species from our consumption of fossil fuels. An engaging read for GCSE students upwards.

What are extremophiles and how do they survive?

Exposing the secrets of desert extremophiles

by Sarah Wild, published by Physics Today, (2021)

Extremophiles are organisms which have adapted to live at the absolute extremes of life. This article discusses examples of extremophiles found in the Namib desert, exploring how they survive the intense UV radiation and dry conditions. Understanding how the bacteria photosynthesise is providing NASA with useful information in relation to the possibility of past life on Mars. It is also fascinating to read about how scientists have conducted their research. This article is suitable for teachers and A-level students, especially those interested in biology and geography.

Why is it important to listen to indigenous people?

Indigenous peoples have adapted to drought for millennia

by Ademola Oluborode Jegede, published by Prevention Web, (2022)

This article not only summarises the responses to extreme conditions from various indigenous groups but also includes links to articles exploring these adaptations. Having detailed some of the challenges facing groups such as the Canadian Inuit, the Afar in Ethiopia and the Tay in Vietnam, Jegede explores how they have adapted. The article finishes with a crucial message: ‘If we are to enhance the adaptive capacity of indigenous peoples facing drought globally, respect for indigenous peoples’ human rights and regard for their culture will be important. In the front seat of the slow-motion car-crash, indigenous peoples more than anyone, need to enhance their resilience in the face of increasing drought.’ An excellent article for teachers to explore with GCSE or A-level students.

Radio clip

BBC World Service | The Conversation: Life in Extreme Conditions

published by BBC

This audio recording offers testimonies from two women who have experienced some of the most extreme climates in the world.

Audiovisual clip

Weather World - Record-breaking heat and extreme rainfall

published by BBC, (2021)

What impact does climate change have on our daily lives? This clip explores the answer.

Further materials

Top 10 Cold Weather Animals and How They Thrive by Monica Cull, published by Discover Magazine, (2021) Read this article
Polar bears found to be surviving despite lack of sea ice offers hope for species by Nicola Davis, published by The Guardian, (2022) Read this article
How Are Plants Adapted To The Tropical Rainforest? by Oishimaya Sen Nag, published by WorldAtlas, (2019) Read this article
Adaptations in Desert Animals, published by AnimalSake Read this article
Catherine Owen is Head of Geography at The King Alfred School an Academy, a CGeog and a Geographical Association Consultant. She writes and presents for OUP, Hodder Geography, Tutor2U and more.

Text © Catherine Owen, 2022-2023